Let’s Be a Voice with Persons with Disabilities

Tomorrow (November 12), the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold its second hearing on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). We’re happy to share this post from Rev. Mark Stephenson on Veteran’s Day in honor of men and women wounded by conflict, while not forgetting its impact on civilians with disabilities. This post was originally published on The Network and Sojourner’s.

The first time Jesus preached in a synagogue, he said that he came to proclaim release to the captives (Luke 4:18). Those captives include people who have disabilities, sometimes literally. My friend Margaret who works Familyoverseas with people with disabilities told me that some of them have scars on their wrists from being chained to their beds for years as children. Pastors from a number of different countries have told me similar stories.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not right all the wrongs committed against people with various disabling conditions, but it puts a line in the sand that squares with the message of Jesus.

People with disabilities tend to be the most oppressed in any community. Even here in the U.S., they are more likely to be unemployed, poor, and victims of crime compared to the general population. People with disabilities from around the world wrote the CRPD, patterning it after the landmark U.S. legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The CRPD gives voice to the cry of people who are often unheard (Proverbs 31:8).

As a Christian, I believe firmly that the United States needs to ratify this important international treaty, but multiple misunderstandings brought about the defeat of the CRPD last time. In particular, three areas of concern have been expressed about the CRPD—parental rights, rights of the unborn, and U.S. sovereignty.

Parental Rights: Ratification of the CRPD would not change U.S. law but would confirm our commitment to disability rights and allow the U.S. to impact disability rights globally. No changes to U.S. laws covering parental rights would result from ratification. Parental discipline and homeschooling would still be under local jurisdiction. In fact, the treaty supports people with disabilities and their right to live in the community among family, and it protects parents and children from separation on the basis of disability.

Rights of the Unborn: The CRPD states that people with disabilities should have the same access to health care as people without disabilities. It emphasizes non-discrimination on the basis of disability, without denying the rights of the unborn.

U.S. Sovereignty: All human rights treaties passed by the U.S. Senate include RUDs (Reservations, Understandings and Declarations), legally binding conditions added to treaties to protect U.S. sovereignty.  The CRPD ratification package that the Senate has before them requires no changes to U.S. law. It includes the RUDs, defines disability as already defined in the ADA, and declares that the U.S. is already in compliance with the CRPD.

Besides proclaiming justice for people with disabilities, ratification will reengage the U.S. as a world leader in disability rights and will provide additional protections for U.S. citizens with disabilities when they travel abroad. In addition, if the U.S. ratifies it, U.S. citizens will have a seat at the table of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This body makes recommendations to countries regarding accessibility and implementation of the treaty.

Justice for people with disabilities is personal for me, not only as a Christian but also as the parent of a child who lives with severe disabilities and as the son of a woman who recently died after a 12-year journey with dementia. Americans, engage your senators, especially the 38 senators who voted against ratification last December, by making calls, visiting their offices, and sending emails. Only six more votes are needed this time around to move from defeat (61 voted in favor last December) to ratification (67 votes in favor needed).

Suggested action steps from the Association of University Centers on Disability:  

1.     Sign the online I Support the Disability Treaty Petition now!

2.     Call your U.S. Senators and tell them that you support the Disability Treaty.  If you have called them before, call them again!

3.      Email your Senators directly using the CRPD Action Center.  It literally only takes a minute! A sample letter is provided.

4.     Tweet both of your Senators to show your support.  Click here for list of your Senators Twitter IDs.  Remember to use #Disability Treaty for each tweet you send.

Find suggested talking points here.

ImageRev. Mark Stephenson is the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Learn more about him on his blog.

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