#SOTU: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

This is the third post in a series on the RAC’s expectations and hopes for President Obama’s State of the Union address on January 28th.

As Reform Jews, we are committed to upholding the commandment, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14).  Stumbling blocks come in all shapes and sizes: today, there are 650 million people worldwide living with a disability, constituting the world’s largest minority group.  The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), based on the ideals of the Americans with Disabilities Act, is intended to empower persons with disabilities to be independent and productive citizens. It represents an international effort to bring the world closer to achieving the goals of equality, opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.

One hope for the State of the Union on Tuesday evening is that President Obama will demonstrate his Administration’s commitment to ratifying the CRPD by discussing its importance.  The CRPD provides benefits to Americans with disabilities who wish to travel and study abroad, as well as to military men and women who have family members with disabilities.  Ratification of the CRPD would show the serious commitment of the U.S. to disability rights both at home and abroad. Ratification of the CRPD would present the opportunity for a reaffirmation of the values we have already committed to in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and provide the forum to advance these values worldwide.

President Obama signed the treaty in July of 2009, but the Senate has not yet ratified the CRPD.  Take a moment to urge your Senators to support people with disabilities worldwide by ratifying the CRPD and tell us, if you were President, what would you talk about in your State of the Union?

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Deborah Goldberg

About Deborah Goldberg

Deborah Goldberg is an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. She graduated in 2013 from Washington University in St. Louis and is originally from Deerfield, IL where she is a member of Congregation B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim.

One Response to “#SOTU: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”

  1. Patricia Morrissey Reply January 31, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    To be honest I was very disappointed when President Obama failed to mention people with disabilities or the need to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in his State of the Union speech. During the drafting of the State of the Union, I imagine the discussion about whether to mention either of these topics went something like this:

    “On people with disabilities we’re covered because the President will end the speech by introducing everyone to the disabled vet. And the CRPD is a Senate matter. To mention it would take too much space.”

    Well, the speech people were wrong on both counts. And, the President was wrong for not demanding both items be included in his speech.

    Nothing would have been lost or diminished by referencing people with disabilities and the CRPD in the President’s speech and so much could have been gained.

    People with disabilities are a substantial block of the U.S. population. Does it make political sense not to mention them in a speech? People with disabilities care about a thriving middle class, economic opportunities, and a descent minimum wage.  In the President’s speech all they were looking for was a brief acknowledgement, a sense that they count. In the Republican response to the President’s speech, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, was willing to go for some heartstrings in her several references to her son with Down Syndrome. Republicans recognized the tactical value, even if only on an emotional level, of including people with disabilities in their response.

    People with disabilities understand empowerment. They are willing to work with elected officials to broaden and strengthen our country’s economic prosperity. But, unlike elected officials, they see ratification of the CRPD as something of strategic value, at home and abroad – an enhanced position for the U.S. worldwide; increased opportunities for U.S. businesses across the globe; the right of Americans to expect, and if not available, promote greater accessibility around the world; and a seat at the table for the U.S. when CRPD standards are being reviewed and revised.

    If the ratification of the CRPD had been mentioned by the President in his speech, Senators may have sensed they needed to assume greater personal responsibility to make ratification happen. Since he didn’t, Senators may think ratification is not a priority for 2014. It is a vital key to restoring our leadership in the international arena. In today’s Washington Post, Brian Katulis, a senior fellow for national security at the Center for American Progress in his opinion piece “Some Work to Do on Foreign Policy”,  said – “At the start of its sixth year, the Obama administration runs the risk of remaining intellectually stuck…Yet major global changes, including the rise of other powers and widespread social protests for dignity, require a forward-looking moral framework for U.S. engagement .”

    Ratifying the CRPD would contribute to the framework Katulis identifies. We have and will continue to advocate for ratification of the CRPD. But it’s time for the President and Senate to appreciate the full weight and value of ratification and to lead.

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