Ratifying the CRPD is Symbolic, but Crucial to Inclusion

A recent announcement made by one of the United States’ largest non-profits addressing autism, Autism Speaks, reflected the success of the neurodiversity movement in this country. Similarly, a recent call by the United Nations panel that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of All Persons with Disabilities for inclusion in education, reminded neurodiversity advocates how importance alliances and reinforcement of certain messages are both nationally and internationally. The United States has long been on the vanguard of the disability rights movement. The CRPD is largely in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—a historic and important piece of legislation protecting and advancing the rights of persons with disabilities in public spaces. Though ratification of the CRPD would not change US law as it currently stands, it would be an important signal for persons with disabilities and allow the United States to be an international leader on neurodiversity and inclusiveness. 

It’s rare that an international treaty can be so uncontroversial in substance as the CRPD and yet become embroiled in a divisive ratification process. In 2009, the United States signed the CRPD and in 2012, it went to the Senate for ratification. Despite bipartisan support for ratification of the treaty, including disabled veterans John McCain and Bob Dole, voting split largely along partisan lines and the treaty fell six votes short of the 67 needed for ratification. Since that time, there has been little discussion of bringing the treaty up for ratification again, however, with diversity and inclusion at the forefront of national discourse, the time may be right for ratifying the CRPD. Although the CRPD will not change existing U.S. law on disability rights, it will send an important signal that the inclusion of persons with disabilities in public spaces, on governance issues, and in the international community is a priority for the U.S. government.

Ratification of the CRPD will bring the United States under the banner of the committee that enforces the convention, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Committee). Participating in the regular reporting will not only hold the United States accountable to implement and follow through on its obligations under the law with regard to persons with disabilities; it will also create and foster networks among persons with disabilities and advocates across the world. Important lessons learned on implementation, best practices, advocacy, and inclusion—including neurodiversity—can be shared in the context of the committee’s work among allies from around the globe. This would be an important development not only for advocates, but for the U.S. government in its implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

For example, the Committee recently issued a call for inclusive education for persons with disabilities. The United States amended the ADA with standards for individuals with disabilities in educational settings in 2008. These important guidelines required “appropriate educational services designed to meet the individual needs” of students with disabilities “to the same extent as the needs of students without disabilities are met.” This laudable goal has been largely implemented in public education systems across the United States, but as standards and needs progress, so too must the services provided. Guidance from the international community can ensure that the United States continues to be at the forefront of inclusive education.

The inclusion of the United States in the Committee’s work will not only be an internal boost to individuals with disabilities and their communities, but can help to set the international standards on inclusiveness. Although there are rare instances where U.S. participation in international systems has hindered the development of international norms and standards, it is largely recognized that American participation has a net positive effect on the protection of human rights. In the area of neurodiversity and inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities, where the U.S. is already a global leader, the United States can play a role in setting global standards by working through the CRPD and its enforcement.

It is high time to dispense with the fear that ratification of the CRPD will somehow lead to a disintegration of U.S. sovereignty. Ratification of the CRPD is uncontroversial and can only have positive effects for individuals with disabilities and advocates for disability rights both in the United States and the international community. It should be ratified and enforced in the United States.  

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