Despite … various instruments and undertakings, persons with disabilities continue to face barriers in their participation as equal members of society and violations of their human rights in all parts of the world – UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Preamble
Disability Rights made headlines twice in the last two weeks. The Associated Press covered an extensive report from the National Council on Disability that identified people with disabilities continue to face bias, especially in regards to having and keeping children. And just a few days ago, 38 Republicans in the US Congress resisted appeals to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, reported the Washington Post.
This second story has received more coverage and extensive commentary as the US has a history with this UN convention, and the failure to ratify it has raised some interesting contradictions. But the two stories together feature the often-overlooked struggles that people with disabilities continue to face in the US and around the world.
The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 and was signed by George H. W. Bush in front of a crowd. Then-Senator Edward Kennedy called it the “emancipation proclamation” for persons with disabilities. This document was a model for the UN Convention, which was crafted with assistance from George W. Bush’s administration and signed by Barak Obama in 2009. It’s had bi-partisan support until now. But the treaty is not ratified until congress signs on.
Veterans and disability rights groups and lawmakers who’ve served in the military made appeals to congress to ratify the convention, but resisters drew upon a few different arguments, including a fear that ratification would threaten US sovereignty, making us subject to UN oversight. Other commentators critical of ratification cited the financial cost of supplying regular reports to the UN as a roadblock.
I cannot speak to how much it costs to issue reports to the UN, though the US has ratified and follows the protocols of other UN treaties. These UN conventions are not legally binding, nor would they allow for the UN to intervene directly in domestic affairs, but they do create another level of accountability and oversight, in this case regarding accessibility, equality, and other rights of people with disabilities.
In the UN convention there is a section referring specifically to parenting and reproductive rights. It states that:
Persons with disabilities [can] decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and [have the right to] access to age-appropriate information, reproductive and family planning education… In no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.
These issues were a theme in David Crary’s AP article on disabled parents. If Congress were to ratify the convention, then parents and lawyers like those featured in Crary’s article would be able to draw on that document to support their cases. As it stands, those advocating for the rights of parents with disabilities can draw on the ADA and other human rights treaties, which some say is sufficient for the US and others continue to disagree. In any case, these issues have been raised to the level of national debate and the continued struggles of people with disabilities acknowledged, at least to some extent.