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Editorial: Rights of the Disabled

Having a physical disability profoundly disconnects a person from the world in which the able-bodied live and move, and makes a challenge out of numerous mundane tasks. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed more than two decades ago, prohibits many forms of discrimination against the disabled and mandates that they be provided with equal access to buildings, workplaces, programs, services and public accommodations.

The federal law was the model for the United Nations treaty known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which requires participating countries to provide equal access for the disabled. To date, 133 countries and the European Union have ratified it. Yet astonishingly, the United States is not among them.

Last December, the Senate fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the treaty, blocked by GOP senators who read into its broad language, variously, a potential ban on home schooling, a right to abortion and other mandates they said might threaten U.S. sovereignty. These contentions are inaccurate. In general, the treaty does not even go as far as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is already the law of this land.

The treaty calls for “an inclusive education system” and addresses the “best interests” of disabled children. It says nothing about home schooling. Nor does it mention abortion. It merely says that the disabled should be provided with the same range of health care options available to other people, “including in the area of sexual and reproductive health.” The drafters of the treaty wanted to ensure that the disabled were not denied access to procedures, or forced into sterilizations, abortions or removal of organs, as has sometimes been the practice.

In many places, discrimination against the disabled is pervasive. Ratification of the treaty by the United States would encourage other countries to protect the rights of the estimated 1 billion disabled people around the globe. Conversely, failure to ratify it sends a signal that these rights are not crucially important.

Despite its defeat last year, the treaty has strong bipartisan support. The George W. Bush administration participated in the drafting negotiations, and it was signed by President Obama in 2009. It is one of a number of treaties that have been signed but not ratified.

Yet it is, as then-Sen. John F. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2012, one of the “least intrusive” international agreements to which the United States could be a party.

The Foreign Relations Committee is expected to consider the treaty again this year. It should send it on to the Senate floor, where it deserves approval.

Los Angeles Times