The treaty for The American’s Disability Act with other countries was negotiated and first signed under former President George W. Bush and signed again by Obama in 2009. At least 153 other countries have signed it.
Do you, like me, wonder why it didn’t pass the Senate – even after Bob Dole’s plea and the support of John McCain? The Senatorial body fell five short of the required two-thirds vote.
First let’s take a brief look at the ADA. It has vastly improved the lives of many disabled citizens by enacting far more beneficial rules and regulations than I have room here to list here. Universal design has made it possible for people to navigate curbs, doors, bathrooms etc. Classrooms are more accessible than ever before. Businesses have adapted.
But it’s not all-good news. There are some federal policies that impede progress. For example persons with disabilities can enroll in Medicare but can only earn a few hundred dollars a month and or could lose some of their benefits. Some policies lean toward institutional care which can force people into nursing homes instead of living independently. 70% of people with disabilities remain unemployed. These and other policies needs to be fixed.
Still the good outweighs the bad.
But people like Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania brought his own disabled child onto the senate floor where he declared that the ADA threatens his rights as a parent to educate his daughter at home. Arguing against supporting the treaty, he suggested that the UN would have the power of life or death over his child. In fact, the treaty explicitly states, “in no case shall a child be separated from parents on the basis of a disability of either the child or one or both of the parents.”
There is the ever-present argument about abortion. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council asserted the treaty would lead to forced “sterilization or abortion for the disabled – at taxpayer expense.” Phyllis Schlafly says that the part of the act (article 25) that states “free or affordable health care including the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based health programs” promotes abortion. Others say it creates more abortion rights for the disabled.
Michael Farris’s Christian home-schooling movement is “one of the best-organized and most hard-line factions of the religious right.” He too says the UN would “prohibit parents from home-schooling their disabled children and even take them from their homes.”
With all this pressure building, thirty-six Republican senators declared they would not vote for the treaty. When they couldn’t come up with a good reason other than it was a lame duck session, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argued that” the treaty by its very nature threatened U.S. sovereignty,” and that “parents will raise their children with the constant looming threat of state interference.”
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. said, “I am frankly upset that they have succeeded in scaring the parents who home-school their children all over this country.” He said he said his office had received dozens of calls from home-schooling parents urging him to vote against the convention.
As if all that weren’t enough, Kansan’s two senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts voted NAY even in the face of severely disabled veteran Senator Bob Dole pleading with them to pass the treaty.
So I guess I have my answer but I still believe as Professor Robert Silverstein of George Washington University has written, “Disability, like race and gender, is a natural and normal part of the human experience that in no way diminishes a person’s right to live a normal life and participate in mainstream activities.”
The issue will be brought up again early in this new session of congress. I hope this time it passes because it won’t be reintroduced again until next year.