Saturday, December 3rd marks the United Nation's 20thInternational Day of Persons with Disabilities. This international day of observance promotes recognition of the rights, inherent dignity, and inclusion of people with disability. It gives us an opportunity to join with people around the world to renew our shared commitment to ensuring that people with disabilities realize human and civil rights. It reminds us that there remains work to be done here and abroad.
The United States has been a leader in ending discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities and our strong body of civil rights laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been models for laws in other countries, evidenced in DREDF'sDirectory of National Disability Non-Discrimination Laws.
The principles of non-discrimination, access, and reasonable accommodation embedded in our laws are among the foundations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD, which entered into force in May 2008, has been ratified by 106 countries, and was signed by the United States in 2009. Signing the CRPD means that the US will not take actions that violate the objectives of the Convention, but we are not bound by its legal obligations. If the US ratifies the CRPD, it becomes law. There is movement toward ratification of the CRPD led by the US International Council on Disabilities(USICD). As a member of USICD, DREDF is working with them to recruit people in target states to lead grassroots efforts to promote ratification. If you're interested in being one of the leaders we'd like to hear from you. Contact Becky Lyons at DREDF and she'll follow up with you.
The CRPD is important because it is a collective statement of inclusion. Globally, especially in countries without disability rights laws, it is being used as a tool by people with disabilities to ensure that they have meaningful access to public services and social supports that promote their economic freedom and freedom of choice. In countries like the US that already have strong disability rights laws, the CRPD can promote further positive change.
Over time, the CRPD will impact the lives of 650 million people with disabilities. It can change the environment for people with disabilities around the world who have been living on the margins of society, excluded from participating in their communities because of barriers to education and employment or worse, institutionalized because of their disability.
The CRPD will make a difference to millions of children with disabilities around the world who remain excluded from school. The CRPD recognizes the right of children with disabilities to be included in general education. The World Health Organization's 2011 World Report on Disability provides staggeringly disappointing statistics on the education of children with disabilities. Just one: The gap in primary school attendance rates between disabled and non-disabled children ranges from 10% in India to 60% in Indonesia (see page 207 of the WHO Report). Like our IDEA, the CRPD can revolutionize education for children with disabilities.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities reminds us that we are part of a global community, and when we share the duty of implementation this international convention has the potential to improve the status of people with disabilities. Professor Gerard Quinn concluded his remarks at the UN on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 2003, with these eloquent words:
"A convention will ultimately be judged on whether it reaches into small places - all the places where people ordinarily live, work and interact. Potentially it should help bring about a sea change in attitudes in small places. Potentially it should open up small places to everybody. A convention is not a panacea. But it can and should be an indispensable catalyst for change."
Don't forget: If you're interested in joining the nationwide effort to encourage the Senate to ratify the CRPD, contact Becky Lyons.