In a 42-minute, tag-team speech with First Lady Michelle Obama, the President of the United States last week affirmed to disabled Americans that global barriers to opportunity must be shattered.
By FINN M. BULLERS
Special to The Star
Passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities is an important global priority, President Barack Obama told Disabled American Veterans in a speech at the Orlando Hilton.
Its the right thing to do, the president said to an enthusiastic crowd. We need to get it done.
But that didnt happen last December when the Senate refused to pass the treaty designed to extend the rights of the Americans with Disabilities Act to all corners of the globe.
The treaty failed 61-38, just five votes short of the super majority needed for passage. Eight Republicans and all of the Senates Democrats favored ratification.
But it wasnt enough.
Watching in a wheelchair from the sidelines was GOP stalwart Bob Dole, the decorated Kansas senator who at 90 years old was likely making his final appearance in the political snake pit he maneuvered deftly for decades in order to bring compromise and moderation center stage.
Many observers say the treatys defeat was a Dole betrayal, particularly from home-state colleagues Sen. Jerry Moran and Sen. Pat Roberts, who earlier had publicly supported the treaty and later voted against it.
I know how disappointing it was last year when the Senate failed to approve the disabilities treaty ... But were going to keep fighting to ratify that treaty, because the United States has always been a leader for the rights of the disabled, Obama said.
The treaty, which calls for greater community access and a better standard of living for people with disabilities around the world, was signed by the U.S. in 2009. But Senate approval is needed for ratification. And that didnt happen.
Supporters say the treaty would not cost the U.S. anything and not require any change to U.S. law, but would allow the nation to take a leadership role internationally on disability rights while also helping to ensure that Americans with disabilities are protected when they travel abroad in much the same way that they are under domestic law. More than 300 disability organizations united last year to back the measure.
However, the treaty faces strong opposition led by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association.
They fear the treaty would compromise U.S. sovereignty and threaten the ability of parents to determine whats best for their kids, claims that those in favor of the treaty insist are baseless.
Obamas speech came one day after Secretary of State John Kerry made his own call to action in support of the treaty.
Joining the disabilities treaty isnt about changing American behavior. Its about getting the rest of the world to raise their disability standards for the treatment of people with disabilities and raise them to our level, Kerry said.
Last month, Sen. Tom Harkin, the pro-Americans with Disabilities Act Democrat from Iowa, indicated in a Senate speech that plans are in place to bring the treaty up for consideration again this fall.
So far, the U.N. says 133 countries have ratified the treaty.
Finn M. Bullers is an advocate for people with disabilities and a freelance writer/editor from Prairie Village. To reach him, send email to email@example.com.