It is my great pleasure to join the world’s one billion persons with disabilities in recognizing the 21st International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
Here in the United States, we’ve been witness to enormous progress in empowering people with disabilities to participate fully in activities that most of us take for granted. I remember the early days of the fight to make our country more accessible, from my work as a Lieutenant Governor and Senator to help open the path for the Wheelchair Division of the Boston Marathon and to open up Little League opportunities to kids with disabilities. It continued through my early Senate partnership with a Republican Senator, Lowell Weicker, to help unleash technology that has produced assistive devices for disabled people.
But my years in the Senate also taught me how much work remains to export the American gold standard – the Americans with Disabilities Act – to the rest of the world. During my final weeks as a Senator, I worked alongside Republican Senators from John McCain to John Barrasso, to try and ratify the Disabilities Treaty, an international agreement that promotes and protects the rights of people with disabilities. Our ratification will benefit the millions of Americans with disabilities when they travel abroad for study, work, or pleasure.. The goal is simple: to help lift other countries up to meet the standard the United States set more than 20 years ago. We fell just five votes short last year of exporting our American ideal, and now is the time to finish the job.
The need is enormous, and the imperative is urgent. What we did here at home with the ADA hasn’t even been remotely realized in many places overseas. At least 80 percent of the world’s persons with disabilities live in the developing world, too often in deplorable conditions of neglect and second class citizenship. Too many people, in too many places around the globe are subjected to unacceptable horrors simply because they have a disability. Moreover, for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities who want to travel, study, work, and serve abroad, including our 5.5 million veterans with disabilities, the protections that they have grown accustomed to under the ADA and other ground-breaking U.S. legislation simply do not exist in many countries. We can change that. We can help expand opportunities abroad for Americans with disabilities, create new markets for American companies, and be in the strongest possible position to push for critically needed improvements around the world.
On this International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we reaffirm our determination to ensure that our disabled brothers and sisters can travel abroad with the same dignity and respect that they enjoy here at home, and that disabled people around the world can at last share in the promises that Americans believe are a right, not a privilege.