Harkin Voices Support for Ratification of UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Photo courtesy of help.senate.gov

Photo courtesy of help.senate.gov

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and author of the Americans with Disabilities Act, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sen. Harkin:

“Good Morning.  I would like to thank Chairman Kerry and the Committee for holding this hearing seeking input from others about the importance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).  I appreciate this opportunity to testify today on an issue that has been a central priority for me since I was first elected to the Senate in 1984.

“Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Lugar and members of the Committee, one of my greatest joys in the Senate has been my work with Senators Dole, McCain and others on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.  The ADA stands for a simple proposition—that disability is a natural part of the human experience and that all people with disabilities hCoutesyave a right to make choices, pursue meaningful careers, and participate fully in all aspects of society.

“Thanks to the ADA, our country is a more welcoming place not just for people with a variety of disabilities, but for everyone.

“Twenty-two years ago this month, President Bush gathered hundreds of Americans with disabilities on the White House lawn for the ADA signing ceremony.  At the time, he noted: “This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities—the first.  Its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.”

“Thanks to the ADA and other US laws, America has shown the rest of the world how to honor the basic human rights of children and adults with disabilities; how to integrate them into society; and how to remove barriers to their full participation in activities that most Americans take for granted.  Our support for disability rights has inspired a global movement that led the United Nations to adopt the CRPD.  Our legal framework influenced the substance of the Convention and is informing its implementation in the 117 countries that have signed and ratified the CRPD.

“I am very grateful for the long history of leadership of both Senators Dole and McCain on disability issues, going back to before the ADA.  I also want to acknowledge the leadership and support of Senators Barrasso, Durbin, Moran, Coons and Udall, all of whom have publicly expressed their strong support for ratification of the CRPD.

“By ratifying this convention, the United States will be reaffirming our commitment to our citizens with disabilities.  Americans with disabilities, including disabled veterans, should be able to live, travel, study and work abroad with the same freedoms and access that they enjoy in the United States.  And as the state parties to the convention come together to grapple with the best ways to make progress and remove barriers, we should be at the table with them helping them learn from our experience.

“The Administration has submitted reservations, understandings and declarations that make clear that US ratification of the CRPD will not require any change in US law and will have no fiscal impact.  My hope is that US ratification of the CRPD will have a moral impact.

My hope is that it will send a signal to the rest of the world that it is not okay to leave a baby with Down syndrome on the side of the road to die; not okay to warehouse adults with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities in institutions chained to the bars of a cell when their only “crime” is having a disability; not okay to refuse to educate children because they are blind or deaf or use a wheelchair; not okay to prevent disabled people from voting, getting married, owning property, or having children; not okay to rebuild infrastructures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, and other war-torn or disaster-stricken areas without improving the accessibility of the infrastructure at the same time.

“I thank this Committee for scheduling today’s hearing. I commend you for recognizing the long history of bipartisan support for disability rights in this county.  And I urge the Committee to report favorably on the treaty and recommend that the Senate give its advice and consent to ratification.”

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