Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


(PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK)

We Can Do Better on Disability Rights

• November 30, 2012 • 12:39 PM

Opinion: A professor of disabled-rights law argues that U.S. Senate efforts to block ratification of a United Nations treaty confirming those rights is seriously wrong-headed.

This week, Sen. Harry Reid asked the Senate to take up ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. President Obama signed the treaty in 2009, and the Senate must ratify it for the United States to be a party. The United States is a leader in disability rights. Our civil rights protections, including laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, have been models for legislation all over the world, and have improved the lives of people with disabilities immensely. Even in a polarized and politicized world, disability has tended to cut across political lines; disability laws have sailed through Congress with high support on both sides of the aisle.

The U.N. treaty is the first ever human rights instrument that holistically and comprehensively addresses the human rights of people with disabilities. It recognizes “the importance of accessibility to the physical, social, economic and cultural environment, to health and education and to information and communication, in enabling persons with disabilities to fully enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

So it would seem that it would be an easy road for the Senate to ratify a treaty that supports the rights of people with disabilities worldwide. Sadly, no. Some Republican senators, including Sen. Mike Lee and former Sen. Rick Santorum, oppose the treaty. Given that it takes 60 votes to move a bill to the floor and a two-thirds majority to ratify a treaty, it appears they will be successful in preventing ratification, at least for now.

The reasons they offer do not withstand serious scrutiny. Having been batted down on arguments that the treaty promoted abortion, these senators now cite concerns of parents who home-school their children, somehow suggesting that the treaty would interfere with these parental choices. This is wrong. There is a provision in the treaty that reads, “States Parties shall take all necessary measures to ensure the full enjoyment by children with disabilities of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children,” and that “in all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The jump from this provision to purported limits on home schooling is based on misreading this language, and a complete misunderstanding of how international law works. Treaties like the U.N. Convention are not “self-executing” in the United States, which means the only way they are enforced is through our own laws. So Congress would need to pass a new law regulating home schooling, which is not even consistent with what the convention says. This is not going to happen, nor should it.

Senators cannot really be concerned that homeschooling, or any other parental right, would be limited by this treaty. At the end of the day, they really just dislike the United Nations and the role of international human-rights law. This is unfortunate. Doing disability-rights work in other countries, I see how much respect our laws have worldwide. The idea that people with disabilities can and should contribute to society, and that government can help enable this participation, is one of our best exports. But our status around the world is diminished when we have no role in this worldwide process for improving the lives of some of the world’s most marginalized citizens.

Whether we participate or not, the U.N. convention is improving the lives of people with disabilities around the world. If we were to engage, it would send a powerful signal, and in the process of thinking about how our own laws compare to treaty obligations, we could initiate important discussions about the effectiveness of what we are doing. We might even learn something. This should be cause for celebration, not baseless fears.

Despite hyperbolic claims, the U.S. controls its own sovereignty on this and other issues. This should be a moment for us to share and spread our values, but instead we are turning it into another example of how polarized and dysfunctional our government can be. Disability is the one minority group any of us could  join at any point. We can and should do better.

Michael Waterstone
Michael Waterstone is an associate dean and professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where he teaches disability rights law and other courses.

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.