US signs UN Convention on the rights
of people with disabilities

Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago’s Marca Bristo was among a handful of people to witness the signing by the United States of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) at UN Headquarters in New York on Thursday. Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was joined by fellow Chicagoans Valerie Jarrett and Bristo, among others, as she praised the convention as the most comprehensive international treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities in history, and the first human rights treaty of the new millennium. Speaking at the Signing Ceremony, Ambassador Rice said, “The United States is very pleased to join the 141 other countries that have signed this Convention in pursuit of a more just world.”

As President of the United States International Council on Disability (USICD), Bristo worked with NGOs and government representatives from around the world to draft the treaty, the first ever signed by the United States to mention of the rights of people with disabilities.

“We are happy with the leadership of President Obama and the United States for signing this treaty,” said Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living and President of the United States International Council on Disabilities (USICD). “It was an honor to witness the signing by Ambassador Rice. Today’s signing represents what is best in America’s commitment to equal opportunity and justice.”

The United Nations estimates that there are 650 million people with disabilities globally. The treaty addresses barriers that impede the full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in their communities, including all aspects of daily life, such as education, employment, living independently and being included in community life. The Americans with Disabilities Act, civil rights law in the United States protecting people with disabilities, is heralded as one of the core inspirations behind the CRPD.

Following the Signing Ceremony, there was a reception attended by well over 100 disability rights and human rights leaders, including some from around the world, as well as UN and White House Officials, including Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama. “It is fitting that we are signing this Convention just a few days after the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Jarrett said. “Due in large part to the ADA, we have made great progress. But as the President said last Friday . . . we are still not satisfied. We have much work to do.”

Jarrett also announced to great applause that the White House will be creating a senior level post within the State Department to coordinate the ratification effort of the treaty with other departments. Speaking about the new position, Jarrett said, “this leader will serve as a symbol of public diplomacy on disability issues, and work to ensure that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations.”

Under the CRPD, ratifying countries are obligated to prevent discrimination against, promote accessibility for and work to achieve the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights for persons with disabilities.

Bristo, in her role as President of USICD, will help coordinate the ratification efforts. “Since the US announced that it will be signing, we’ve received congratulatory emails from all parts of the world from people who are excited about the treaty,” Bristo said. “Now that the treaty is signed, we look forward to the same bipartisan support within the United States that we’ve seen for prior disability specific legislation.”

Chicago’s only center for independent living, Access Living is a cross-disability organization, nationally recognized as a leader in the field of independent living and a premier local provider of services for people with disabilities.

USICD is a federation of US-based non-governmental organizations (NGO), government agencies and individuals committed to advocating in support of the international disability community.