Then and Now: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

February 23, 2011
JDAMlogo2011.JPGIn doing some research on disability rights legislation, I came across some blog entries about Jewish Disability Awareness Month posted by last year's legislative assistant for disability issues, Sam Lehman. Throughout the month of February 2010, Sam highlighted three policy issues: the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, and the Community First Choice Option amendment. So as this year's Jewish Disability Awareness Month comes to a close, let's look back on these issues and see how far we've come versus how far we still need to go.
Starting with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Adopted by the UN on December 13, 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities affirms the human rights of people with disabilities; declares the obligations of ratifying countries to promote, protect and ensure those rights, including but not limited to the right to education, the right to live in the community, the right to freedom from exploitation, violence and abuse, and the right to participate in political, public and civil life; and provides mechanisms to support countries in their implementation of the Convention.

To date, 147 countries have signed the Convention and 98 countries have ratified it. The United States signed the Convention in July 2009. Since then, officials at the State Department have been studying the Convention to see if any Reservations, Understanding or Declarations (RUDs) are needed before the Convention is transmitted to the Senate for ratification. Ratification requires approval of 67 senators.

Even though many provisions of the Convention are consistent with existing federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, ratification could help us identify weaknesses in these laws and address the full range of human rights for people with disabilities. U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would also reinforce the United States' position in the global community as a defender of human rights, including those of people with disabilities.

At last week's Jewish Disability Awareness Month congressional briefing, U.S. State Department Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judy Heumann said the Convention is almost ready for transmittal to the Senate. We'll let you know when that happens and provide a simple way for you to send an e-mail through our Chai Impact Action Center, urging your Senators to support ratification.

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