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Diplomacy in Action

Our Disabled Deserve Access Abroad


Op-Ed
John Kerry
Secretary of State
USA Today
Washington, DC
July 21, 2013

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 U.S. must ratify global treaty that gives the handicapped the same rights they have at home.

Last year I met Dan Berschinski, a retired U.S. Armycaptain, Afghanistan War veteran and a double amputee. Eight months after he was severely wounded, he visited South Africa to watch theWorld Cup. Most fans were sizing up the teams, but Dan was sizing up other questions: Would his wheelchair fit through the hotel doorway? Would the bathrooms be accessible? Would the buildings have ramps?

As Dan told me, "Those are the kinds of questions we take for granted here in America, but, unfortunately, the accessibility measures that we enjoy here simply aren't present in many other countries."

Too many countries haven't done what the United States did 23 years ago this week when we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. In too many countries, what we take for granted hasn't been granted at all.

American gold standard

We need to change that — and we can. But it requires American leadership in the world so that our wounded warriors and Americans with disabilities can travel, serve, study and work anywhere in the world with the same dignity and respect they enjoy here at home.

The United States set the gold standard when the ADA broke down barriers to equal opportunity, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

Now we must export that gold standard — and we can't do it effectively unless the United States ratifies the Disabilities Treaty. The treaty will help other countries break down barriers that also affect Americans with disabilities when they leave our shores. We can help improve the lives of millions of our citizens by pushing other countries to rise to our standards.

Revived effort

One of the saddest days in my public life was Dec. 4, 2012 — the afternoon when the Senate I revere fell just five votes short of approving the Disabilities Treaty. It was supported by conservatives and liberals, veterans groups and Bob Dole, whose life was altered by his World War II combat injuries. Dole made an inspiring journey to the Senate to fight for it. As he celebrates his 90th birthday this week, Dole is still fighting for his country — and still fighting for this treaty.

When you get knocked down in defeat, you have to get back up — and today we renew our commitment to fight alongside Bob Dole and get the job done.

The facts are on our side: The purpose of the Disabilities Treaty is the same as our ADA: to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability. It won't change American laws one bit, alter the balance between the federal government and the states, or infringe on parental rights in the U.S.

What will it do? It will hold up the principles of the ADA as the bar other countries need to meet.

So what's really at stake? The Disabilities Treaty is the single most important step we can take to ensure that millions of disabled Americans enjoy the same protections abroad as they do here. This treaty offers hope where there is none.

Be more like us

It's about who we are and what we stand for in the world.

In four simple words, the treaty says to other countries that don't respect the rights of disabled people: Be more like us. To countries that warehouse children with disabilities — be more like us. To countries that leave children to die because they have a disability — be more like us. To countries that force children with disabilities to abandon education — be more like us.

If we join, we can also work to level the playing field for American businesses and help create new markets for our accessible technologies products. That's why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, IBM and other businesses support U.S. ratification.

All these benefits aren't open to us until other countries rise to meet our standards. We'd have greater credibility and leverage to export our disability laws if we join this treaty ourselves. This is about projecting U.S. leadership. It's about helping our veterans, promoting our values and our companies.

This treaty doesn't change America. It's about America changing the world.



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