AHEAD Editorial on CRPD Ratification

September 4, 2013
Source: Association on Higher Education and Disability

THE ALERT August 2013

Our annual conference in Baltimore was a huge success (my thanks again to staff , presenters, and volunteers). Like many of you I am back on campus catching up and beginning to think about how to incorporate what I have learned into plans for the start of the year. Baltimore’s opening plenary, “504 at Forty,” reminded me that September is rich in contrasts and history. The academic year gets underway and summer turns to autumn; Elvis Presley (9/9/1956) and Star Trek (9/8/1966) broke into our national consciousness; President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (9/22/1862); and President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to assure racial integration of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas (9/24/1957). On the disability front September marks the culmination of state sponsored eugenics programs with the initiation of Germany’s T4 Program (9/1/1939) and the signing of Section 504 of the

Rehabilitation Act (9/26/1973), a major step in guaranteeing civil rights for the disabled.

September’s history forms a perfect backdrop for a conversation about the current politics of disability as the academic year gets under way. High on the list of current issues is whether or not the United States should Ratify the United Nations’ Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD). Discussing the pros and cons of ratification on campus provides opportunities to discuss:

1. The philosophy and protections of the ADA in comparison to the CRPD;

2. The value of international study and scholarship to a college education; and

3. The roles of the United States and United Nations global economy and international relations.

The CRPD and the ADA represent similar philosophies on the nature of disability and human rights and in concrete terms of protections on our campuses the CRPD and the ADA are congruent so ratification would not add protections. So if it won’t add any protections why might it be important? Currently the employment provisions (Title I) of the ADA cover employees working in other countries for U.S. employers (EEOC Guidance). A disabled faculty member leading a summer abroad program is entitled to reasonable accommodations, but her students are not.

Study abroad is not only an increasingly important aspect of a good education but a graduation requirement many programs. If study abroad is in countries that have signed the CRPD it will afford students some basic protections. While this is true even if the U.S. does not ratify the CRPD, ratification would give the U.S. a voice in how the CRPD is implemented.

The concerns of those opposed to the CRPD seem to have less to do with a position on disability rights and more to do with a more general opposition to the U.N. While some U.N. treaties might be interpreted as asking the U.S. to give up authority or impose rules we would not otherwise follow, the CRPD does not. First, because under the ADA we grant the same or greater protections to both U.S. Citizens and to international students, workers, and tourists in the U.S. Second, because ratification would not impose limits related to the U.N receiving, investigating, and resolving complaints because they are not in the CRPD but in the Optional Protocol which can be debated further and considered at a future date.

The Senate can ratify the CRPD without risking sovereignty, allowing they U.S. to engage the over 125 signatories on the world stage and lead by example, embracing its eight guiding principles:

  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
  2. Non-discrimination
  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
  5. Equality of opportunity
  6. Accessibility
  7. Equality between men and women
  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities


Scott Lissner

AHEAD President