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CONTACT: Gary Arnold, Access Living
312-640-2199 (voice)
312-640-2102 (tty)

Senate fails to ratify international disability rights treaty

Chicago— On Tuesday, December 4, the U.S. Senate failed by five votes to reach the two thirds majority needed to ratify the United Nations International Treaty on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The final vote count was 61–38. Though the treaty earned bipartisan support, Republican Senators cast all 38 votes against the treaty. “This treaty is good for the United States and it is good for the world,” said Marca Bristo, Board Chair of the US International Council on Disabilities (www.usicd.org), and President & CEO of Access Living. “We are extremely let down and disappointed by the Senators who voted against the treaty and failed to support the rights of people with disabilities both in the United States and abroad.”

A coalition of 300 disability organizations, 21 veteran organizations, and 30 faith groups organized to build support for the treaty. The treaty earned endorsements from Former President George HW Bush, former Senator Bob Dole, and current Republican Senators such as John McCain and Richard Lugar. “In 1990, Democratic and Republican Senators worked together to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Bristo said. “This treaty was the perfect opportunity for the Senate to elevate the principles of the ADA to a world stage.” If ratified, the treaty would have extended U.S. protections to Americans traveling and working abroad. Also, the United States would have earned a seat on the UN Committee on Disabilities. Because the Senate failed to ratify the treaty, Bristo said, “The United States will have to sit on the sidelines. Our best practices and many years of experience won't be implemented.”

Opponents to the treaty argued that it would impact U.S. Sovereignty. White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray and former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, also a parent of a child with a disability, confirmed that no changes in U.S. law would be required to comply with the treaty. In addition to every major disability and veteran's organization, and key leaders in America's historic bipartisan disability rights movement, the United States Chamber of Commerce supported the treaty.

Disappointed with the vote, coalition leaders will continue to advocate for disability rights worldwide. “It was people with disabilities who wrote the treaty,” Bristo said. “And it was people with disabilities who built support for the treaty. Though it is tragic that 38 Senators failed to support our voice, we will not stop until people with disabilities here in the US and abroad have equal rights and protections.”

Established in 1980, Access Living is a non–profit, Chicago–based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer–based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers.

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