Essay: The Roots of Opposition to the U.N. Disability Convention

The Takeaway
Update: The U.S. Senate rejected the treaty that was "intended to protect the rights of those with with disabilities." Takeaway host John Hockenberry, who uses a wheelchair, looks at the people opposing the United Nations Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities. The Senate is expected to vote today on an international treaty that would sign the United States up to a convention protecting the rights of people with disabilities in nations around the world. The 'convention,' as it is called, would establish a set of principles calling for access to jobs, to public facilities, to education. One hundred nations have already ratified it. In a sense, it enshrines some of the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act into international law. The convention has bipartisan support. Former Senator Bob Dole is a backer, so is John McCain, Senator John Kerry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has seen the Americans with Disabilities Act as a positive force for business in the United States. So who is calling this a dangerous encroachment on American sovereignty? Mike Lee: "This is an emotional issue for many" That's Utah Senator Mike Lee who realizes that I, as a disabled person, might be too emotional to think clearly about the world recognizing my rights to access to a business or a building – access that I have had to fight for for 37 years in a wheelchair. Yes, it's too emotional for me to be credible on wanting people with disabilities all over the world to have the same rights I have had to fight for here in Americas. When it comes to people disabled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans and Iraqis and Afghans should not have their lives end because they survived the fighting with a disability. So that's one argument, that as a disabled person I'm too emotional to think clearly about my own rights. Here's another argument against the convention from Senator Jim DeMint. Senator Jim DeMint: "We need to continue to lead the world" I don't really even understand what South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is saying there. Somehow the United States will be prohibited from doing all the things it wants to for people with disabilities by the United Nations under this treaty. Senator DeMint, this champion of the disabled, failed to mention how in 2010 he opposed a simple regulation that public pools be accesible for people with disabilities. He called that a government overreach. The Senator doesn't want to swim in water with people not like himself. That sounds familiar.   The bitterest opponent of the Convention on Rights for the Disabled comes from former Senator Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum: The convention is a "poison pill" Santorum's secret fatal flaws would allow a United Nations takeover of the U.S. government while we're not looking. The peacekeepers would just ride in on wheelchairs unnoticed and that would be the end of U.S. Democracy. Santorum was defeated by a majority in Pennsylvania back in 2006. He was repudiated by GOP voters during the 2012 election campaign. So now he picks a new target, one perhaps more powerless than him: people with disabilities. He can demonstrate his ideological purity about the U.N., and show his influence in the Senate by going after people with disabilities. They won't fight back. Tell that to the disabled veterans Santorum and his fellow Senators helped create in the war on Iraq which, I recall, went forward in direct defiance of the United Nations. Was Senator Santorum worried about the U.N. takeover back then? I suspect not. Who do we fear most? The United Nations Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities, or Rick Santorum and his friends? Michael Farris: "Americans should make the law for America"
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