On Tuesday, December 4, people with disabilities in Washington, DC and around the country anxiously watched and listened as the US Senate began a roll-call vote to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. In the days leading up to the vote, treaty supporters implemented a furious campaign to secure the votes needed for ratification. Advocates around the country sent emails, sent Twitter notes, and made phone calls to a short list of Republican Senators whose votes would be need to bring the Senate up to the two thirds majority. On December 4 during the vote, as the names of the Republicans on the outreach list were called on the Senate Floor, ratification was in doubt. One by one, the Senators on the list voted no. In the end, the final vote was 61-38, five votes short of the two-thirds majority.
Senator John Kerry with a group of disability leaders and political leaders, building support for the treaty.
Disability groups around the country immediately responded, condemning the vote, and vowing to bring the treaty back. In a statement issued by the United States International Council on Disability, Marca Bristo said, “This vote against me and my community is one you will not soon forget.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued this statement:
This treaty was about 57 million Americans who live with a disability. Republicans such as former President George H.W. Bush, Senator McCain and former Senator Bob Dole called on their Republican colleagues to support these Americans. I am saddened those Senators did not listen. Their arguments against the treaty had no basis in fact – the treaty does not change United States law. That is why I plan to bring this treaty up for a vote again in the next Congress. Our wounded veterans and millions more around the world deserve better.
The media, which was relatively quite before the vote, also responded in force. Interestingly, though the media focus on disability helps the effort to eventually ratify the treaty, some of the media seems to be more focused on political disfunction than on disability rights. Stories drill down not on the disability community and the community’s efforts to ratify the treaty, but on the failure of Republicans on the far right to support a treaty that does not pose any risk to anyone or any entity in the United States. A story on MSNBC focused on the “shame” of the Senate’s failure rather than the pain of disability advocates whose efforts fell short. Nevertheless, even though the coverage has come after the vote, media has provided a significant boost for awareness of the convention and, hopefully, support of the convention. Hopefully, the community will take this momentum of the media, build upon it, and secure support necessary for passage of the treaty in 2013.