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United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

The United States signed onto the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty that marks a shift in attitudes toward disability rights, on July 30. The action, which followed a directive by President Barack Obama the week before at a White House event commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), immediately drew praise from disability rights groups and advocates.

Among those commending the move was Gallaudet President Robert Davila, who called it “the culmination of many years of advocacy for such a statement by persons with disabilities and their supporters throughout the world.” Dr. Davila, who addressed the U.N. General Assembly as assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services in the U.S. Department of Education 19 years ago, closed the U.N.’s Decade of Persons with Disabilities in the same year that the U.S. passed the ADA.

The impact at home

Jeff Rosen, a Gallaudet graduate, attorney, and international disability rights advocate, was also heartened by the news. Rosen helped found the organization RatifyNow to support global grassroots efforts to ratify the CRPD.

“I am thrilled about what occurred today,” Rosen said in a vlog following the White House event. This is an historic moment.

Gallaudet students Christopher Kearney and Ian Deandrea-Lazarus were present at the announcement, and joined Rosen and attorney Howard Rosenblum in the vlog filming outside the White House.

The United Nations’ website describes the treaty as a “paradigm shift” in attitudes and approaches to persons with disabilities.” It is the international organization’s belief that the document “takes to a new height the movement from viewing persons with disabilities as “objects” of charity, medical treatment, and social protection towards viewing persons with disabilities as “subjects” with rights, who are capable of claiming those rights and making decisions — as well as being active members of society.

Reflecting on the accomplishment, Davila looked toward next steps.

“Over the past two decades, many gains have been made by persons with disabilities in various countries, but much more is needed,” he said. “In order for more nations to adopt laws like the ADA and other civil rights measures, the needs of citizens with disabilities have to become national priorities. And, in order for this to happen, education and training leading to independence, employment, and improved qualities of life have to be the fundamental rights of every person.

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