Op-Ed on CRPD: Measure won't infringe on rights

May 21, 2013
Source: The Tennessean

When I decided to home-school my son, I knew it would have tremendous benefits and immeasurable impact on the person he would become.

In spite of the stigmas often pegged on home-schooling families, I never regretted my decision. Perhaps, I also felt more resistant to that stigma as for more than 20 years, I’ve worked to support another community that has faced stereotypes and a history of stigmatization: Americans with disabilities.

Last year, my two passions of home schooling and disability rights came together. The U.S. Senate was considering the passage of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. U.S. ratification of the disability treaty would not affect U.S. law and would have no impact on how American parents raise their children. Instead, it would provide us an opportunity to contribute to legislation in other countries that would mirror our own Americans with Disabilities Act.

Yet in spite of the wide community and bipartisan support for the treaty, I was shocked to find that it was the voices of home-schooling families who stood in stark opposition.

The Home School Legal Defense Association and its affiliate Parental Rights made all kinds of outrageous claims: that the treaty would ban spanking, change home-schooling laws, and worst of all take American children with disabilities away from their parents. As a home-schooler, I am usually proud of the community’s attention to the facts and understanding of the law. I am outraged at how manipulated and misused the voice of the community was in this debate. Supporting the rights of home-schooling families and supporting the disability treaty are not mutually exclusive.

I am not the only one who feels this way. Dr. Raymond Moore, the grandfather of home schooling, has been very critical of the HSLDA and its leader, Michael Farris. Dr. Moore wrote to him in an open letter, “I pray that you might somehow see how bigotry divides and destroys this great Movement.”

Dick Thornburgh, former U.S. attorney general and parent of a son with a disability, also worked to combat the false claims around the treaty.

What was particularly upsetting about HSLDA’s tactics is that they created new tension between the disability and home-schooling communities when we have history of supporting each other. When the disability community worked tirelessly to get the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed, home schooling was recognized by the law and families were able to benefit from important services, like speech therapy, provided by the legislation. We will be stronger if we continue to work together, trust that our communities’ goals are aligned and not allow ourselves to be divided.

As a home-schooler and disability-rights advocate, I support the rights of people with disabilities all over the world, and I know that people with disabilities in other countries are already seeing their rights realized with the disability treaty serving as a guiding light.

As Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander prepare to consider the treaty again this year, I urge them to take a closer look at the facts this time around. The rights of people with disabilities and the rights of home-schooling parents should be a priority. The disability treaty protects and advances both worldwide.

Angela Webster, a home-school parent and disability rights advocate, lives in Erin, Tenn.