UN Disability Treaty is in the Senate Again: Will It Go Through This Time?

Yet again, the US Senate is being presented with the opportunity to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a key foundational document intended to extend protections to disabled people all over the world. After a failure to ratify in 2012, can the Senate do the right thing this time and step up not just for disabled Americans, but disabled people around the globe? The disability treaty, as it’s known, has become a political hot potato, highlighting the conflicted relationship between the United States and the UN. While the United States may position itself as a global cop, it’s often unwilling to play by the rules.

After just four years of negotiation (it sounds like a lot, but the UNCRPD was actually the fastest negotiated human rights treaty, according to the UN), the UNCRPD was adopted in December 2006, and opened to signatures in March of the following year. Notably, more people signed the treaty on its opening day than any other UN Convention in history, and one nation even ratified the convention on opening day — a huge victory for the disability rights movement and the UN’s push for better treatment of disabled people worldwide. Currently, 158 nations, including the United States, are signatories — but only 147 have ratified it, and the United States is not among them.

Other nations that have signed but not ratified include human rights luminaries like Kazakhstan and Libya. Notably, the United States is also among only a handful of nations that have refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, another key human rights treaty. Why is the Senate refusing to support basic human rights for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations?

The answer is complex, and it starts with the fear that signing global treaties will interfere with federal and state law. The United States argues, for example, that it doesn’t need to sign the UNCRPD because existing disability rights legislation and caselaw provides the same protections — but it doesn’t seem eager to acknowledge that the symbolic value of this treaty is important. Furthermore, the extremely narrow margin (ratification failed by only six votes in 2012) in the Senate suggests that many Senators are eager to embrace the Convention.

After a failure along party lines in the Senate, can the treaty bounce back?

Activists hope so, and they’re pushing their legislators to cast their votes for ratification. If you want to join them, you can use the Senate’s contact list to find your Senators. Phone calls, faxes, emails and letters are all great forms of communication, although phone calls can be a highly efficient and personalized way to get through, and Senate staffers count every phone call that comes in.

You can make your points brief and polite — simply ask your Senator to help the United States become a global leader for disability rights by ratifying the treaty. You don’t need to be a registered voter to call your Senator, and you don’t need to be of voting age: whether you can vote or not, you’re part of your Senator’s constituency, and your Senator should be looking out for you.

Photo credit: Keoni Cabral


Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for posting

Nikolas K.
Nikolas K3 years ago

Pamela T. I think you were not listened to because you shouted at those you spoke to, just like your shouting now.

Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Thank you.

Susan S.
Susan S.3 years ago

My sense is that the US has not signed on for two reasons. (1)We tend not to ratify any international human rights treaties because of some sort of inflated sense of threats to American sovereignty. (2)We are not overly concerned with the rights of disabled people, as witnessed by the extremely high rates of incarceration of people with physical and mental disabilities. I just wrote about this on my blog: http://susan.sered.name/blog/378/

Mary H.
Mary H.3 years ago

Tina C, Ron B: OUR signing the treaty will do NOTHING for the disabled in OTHER COUNTRIES!!!! It only binds US to do certain things, to be interpreted by the UN.

What other countries do for the disabled is up to them to sign the treaty AND abide by the terms as interpreted by the UN, which they are not required to do. Our signing it will have no effect on other countries' provisions for the disabled.

We already make pretty good provisions for the disabled, and if we lack, we can correct it domestically; we don't need some UN regulator telling us what to do.

We, however, are required by the Constitution to abide by the terms.

Tina C.
Tina C3 years ago

Extending wheelchair accessibility around the world is helpful not just to people who ordinarily use wheelchairs, but also those who become injured while traveling and have to use a wheelchair for the remainder of the trip as well as the ride back home.

ERIKA S3 years ago

thank you

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Ron B.
Ron B3 years ago

Better find a way to do it quick. The chance of a Republican takeover of the US Senate has actually gone up recently. If it happens, that will be yet one more potential nail in the coffin of the poor and the disabled to the benefit of the greedy rich elites.