This week the United States Senate failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, a treaty that forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. The 61 to 38 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to sign on to an international treaty, despite bi-partisan support. All 38 of those no votes were cast by Republicans.
The World Health Organization estimates that there are more than 1 billion people with disabilities worldwide. Eighty percent are living in developing countries and more than 300,000 are women. Regardless of where they live, women with disabilities contend with the double discrimination of gender and ability status. Women with disabilities experience higher rates of poverty and unemployment than men with disabilities. It’s estimated that less than 1% of women with disabilities worldwide are literate. They face forced abortion and sterilization, and a disproportionate lack of access to health care. They are two to three times more likely to experience sexual violence than non-disabled women.
It is difficult to imagine why the United States senate would not wholeheartedly support the rights of people with disabilities. After all, we like to think of ourselves as leaders in disability rights. According to the United Nations, only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed 22 years ago. It was a historic piece of legislation that forced huge leaps forward in everything from public transportation to building architecture. It forbade discrimination in the workforce, and mandated schools to educate all of their children, regardless of ability. In fact, the ADA served as a model for the UN treaty. Infuriatingly , signing this treaty would not have required US lawmakers to do anything. It would not require us to change a single law. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.” It would have simply been a symbolic gesture that said people with disabilities, no matter where they live, deserve to be treated like human beings. And yet, 38 Senators still refused to sign it.
tl; dr: Republicans refuse to sign a largely symbolic UN treaty that indicates a commitment to NOT discriminate against people with disabilities.