Most of last week, I had the pleasure of spending at the United Nations in New York. I attended the Second Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It has been almost 10 years since I was at the United Nations and found that I had forgotten a lot of what it was like: The way the building seemed aged and just a step out of time, the many many suits rushing around attending to various delegates, the variety of colors and clothing and languages. I have to admit, it was pleasant to hear Arabic again after so many years.
As many of you may be aware, on July 30th, Ambassador Susan Rice signed the treaty on behalf of the United States. If ratified by the Senate, the CRPD will be the fourth major human rights treaty ever adopted by the U.S. On September 3rd, Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy spoke at the conference. Below are his comments:
Remarks by Mr. Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, At the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Thank you all. I am delighted that we are holding this second session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And I am deeply honored to be the first representative of the United States to be here with you all.
A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege of being present when Ambassador Rice signed this treaty—the first new human rights convention of the 21st century. It enlarges the circle of liberty and equality to more fully include the 650 million people around the globe—one tenth of the world’s population—who live with a disability. The principles that guide the Convention are powerful ones: a respect for inherent human dignity, worth, independence, and autonomy; the rejection of discrimination; the shield of equal protection and benefits under law; the call for full participation and inclusion in society; an insistence on equality of opportunity and accessibility; a respect for difference and an embrace of diversity.
These principles resonate profoundly in U.S. disabilities legislation. More than one in five Americans lives with a disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 has become a bill of rights for millions of citizens, giving legal force to some of the strongest national protections against discrimination in the world. An important legislative follow-up, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, provides even more powerful guarantees of the rights of citizens living with disabilities. Above all, the ADA remains the achievement of the community of activists who fought vigorously and bravely for the rights and autonomy of persons with disabilities. And it remains a reminder that the shackles that hold us back can be broken, not just endured.
As President Obama has noted, disability rights are not just civil rights to be enforced at home. They are universal rights to be promoted around the world. So on July 30, Ambassador Rice had the high honor of signing the UN Convention on behalf of the United States—and taking another step on the great and ongoing American journey toward liberty and equality for all. We are proud to join the 141 other UN member states that have also signed this important document. And I hope the Senate will give the Convention swift consideration and approval once President Obama submits it for advice and consent.
My colleagues and I are looking forward to our work together, both over the years ahead and during this week’s Conference. In keeping with this year’s theme, with its emphasis on legislation and implementation, the United States will present a panel discussion entitled “Addressing Challenges in Defining Disabilities: Legislating Workable Definitions.” The panel will focus on the ADA Restoration Act and will feature presentations from the U.S. Departments of Justice and State and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This discussion will take place today, during the lunch period, in Conference Room 5. We hope to see many of you there.
But our work together must go on beyond these halls too. For all the progress of recent decades, for all the promise this Convention holds, we all still have much more to do. As President Obama has noted, persons with disabilities still often cannot choose the communities in which they live. They often find that affordable, high-quality health care is out of reach. They are more likely to be unemployed. They are far more likely to live in poverty. And in developing nations, 90 percent of children with disabilities do not attend school.
As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has noted, discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust. It also hinders economic development, limits democracy, burdens families, and erodes societies.
So we turn ourselves to defend the human rights of citizens with disabilities both because it is wise and because it is just. Let our efforts serve to guarantee the inherent dignity, worth, and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide. Let our efforts serve as an ongoing source of inspiration to all who cherish the ideals of dignity and equality. And let our efforts serve as a lasting reminder that, when we work together, old barriers can come tumbling down.