In 1990, the United States enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was one of the first such pieces of legislation in the world. It defined disability discrimination and has been a blueprint for many other similar laws across the globe. Perhaps even the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act 1995 has some of its origins in the US’s legislation.
The ADA has also recently been used as a template for a United Nations Treaty for disabled people, which has already been signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. Simply, it states that nations should strive to assure that disabled people enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens. Seemingly, this should have been a rubber stamping process for the many countries already in support, in the knowledge that it would represent a major action for many others embarking on the first anti-discriminatory steps.
Before the US could ratify the Treaty, there had to be a vote in the Senate, which took place on Tuesday this week. Led by Republican opposition however, the US rejected the Treaty despite it having been modelled on their own Act. What was their rationale? Simply, though inexplicably, some right wing politicians decided that the treaty could pose a threat to US national sovereignty, therefore they refused to support it.
Even with support from Bob Dole, the former Senate Republican leader and 1996 nominee for president (now a wheelchair using elder statesman), 38 Republicans still cast a “no” vote, causing the Treaty to fall five votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed for ratification.
It is difficult to envisage how the proposed Treaty could compromise US sovereignty. Perhaps the Grand Old Party, as the Republicans are sometime known, are fearful of an external agency, The UN or any other body, examining their internal practices towards disabled people.
USA Today states that “By walking away from the treaty, the U.S. loses a chance to champion the principles of non-discrimination overseas. And the Senate looks captive to fringe members peddling half-baked ideas about the U.N.”.
To me, this is a clear example of a few people’s actions ruining a transforming opportunity for many.