America and the CRPD: Editorial for Rehabilitation International Journal

August 3, 2009


Editorial Contribution from the United States International Council on Disabilities, by President Marca Bristo and Executive Director David Morrissey.  Ms. Bristo also serves as the Vice President of the North American Region of RI and is the President and CEO of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois.

On July 30, 2009, the United States joined the international community in affirming the human rights of all persons by signing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) at the United Nations in New York, making the U.S. the 141st signatory to the treaty.  That day, US Ambassador Susan Rice, accompanied by Senior Advisor to the President, Valerie Jarrett, signed the treaty and also announced the creation of a post within the US State Department dedicated to international disability issues.


A broad coalition of Americans with disabilities called for our country to sign the CRPD, upholding the American values of liberty, justice, and equality.  We look forward to continued broad support for this treaty among all Americans, both with and without disabilities, and we are committed to seeing U.S. ratification of the CRPD.


It was appropriate that one week earlier President Obama made the announcement that the U.S. would sign the CRPD on the 19th Anniversary week of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  In his announcement, President Obama spoke about the importance of the passage of the ADA in 1990 and of the disability rights movement in the United States, and noted that the Convention is an opportunity for the U.S. to recommit to “building a world free of unnecessary barriers.”  He illustrated his personal connection to disability by recounting the story of his father-in-law who lived with Multiple Sclerosis, remembering, “He just wanted to be given the opportunity to do right by his family.”


President Obama was joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who stated, “I am going to make sure that this convention is reflected in our policies around the globe, and to that end I intend to ask our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to make support for people with disabilities a central element in the State Department strategy worldwide, to ensure that we carry out the Obama Administration’s goal of spreading opportunity and standing against injustice whenever and wherever we see it.”


Secretary Clinton affirmed what Americans with disabilities have long been calling for: that the values enshrined in the Americans with Disabilities Act be reflected in the policies and practices of our government in all of its international engagements.  USICD believes that U.S. signature of the CRPD is a monumental step toward realizing this vision, and one that must be furthered by swift U.S. ratification. 


USICD praises President Obama’s leadership in the movement toward US ratification of the Convention. We also commend those countries that have already ratified this treaty.  We are sure to gain valuable insight from those countries that were the frontrunners in the ratification process. We are excited to both learn from and contribute to the global dialogue on one of the most important human rights issues of the 21st Century.  We firmly believe this treaty is good for America, good for people with disabilities, and good for the world. 


President Obama emphasized the importance of the core goal of the Convention asserting, “Disability rights aren't just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they're universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world.”  Secretary Clinton concurred in saying, “Supporting human rights are among the most important guideposts of our foreign policy.  They are also values that unite us as Americans and bring us together in common purpose with people in every country and on every continent.”


USICD was founded on this principal. We are now looking forward and working toward U.S. ratification of the CRPD, a vital step in the progress of the global disability community’s movement.  We have received countless emails from our colleagues around the world, praising President Obama’s action and congratulating U.S. disability advocates.  We thank you for all of your messages and are inspired by the global disability community we join in celebrating the vision and meaning of the CRPD.