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U.S. signature absent from U.N. disability convention, celebrated at Paralympic Games

March 13, 2014 at 6:29 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The 2014 Paralympic Games being played in Sochi this week have once again focused attention on the talented athletes from around the world who have overcome a variety of disabilities to compete there.

They inspired us to look into the status of a global treaty that would directly affect them and others with disabilities.

I recorded this report a few days ago.

It’s a landmark of sorts at the Paralympic Games, a wall commemorating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  In fanfare last week, it was revealed to the world. The convention aims to make sure that those with disabilities have equality under the law, access to public places and facilities, and basic education.

Thousands have signed the wall in Sochi, including American athletes. However, the country that sent them there is one of the few dozen countries in the world that have not ratified the convention the wall celebrates. Despite the fact the treaty is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, this Congress hasn’t ratified the treaty.

BOB DOLE, Former Presidential Candidate: Primarily, it prevents discrimination against disabled people who might be traveling abroad. And it also gives us a seat at the table.

We’re going to be held responsible and accountable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Bob Dole is the former Senate majority leader and Republican presidential nominee who lost the use of his right arm after he was wounded in World War II.

BOB DOLE: Support is wide, so we just have to make our case. And we’re doing it almost every day. We’re working on some way to convince members that this is the right thing to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Opponents of the treaty say that it gives the United Nations jurisdiction over local and state laws.

RICK SANTORUM, R, Former U.S. Senator: Isabella is our youngest child. She is a special gift to us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is one of those opponents. He’s also the father of a young daughter with a developmental disability.

RICK SANTORUM: We already have laws that protect everything that is in this convention. We already meet or exceed what this convention calls for. There’s no benefit to the United States from passing it. There is no benefit to any children here in the United States from passing it.

WOMAN: It is so decided.

(APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: The convention was adopted by the U.N. in 2006. President Obama signed the treaty in 2009.

MAN: The Senate will come to order.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It went to a vote on the Senate floor in December 2012, but fell six votes short. Last fall, opponents managed to scuttle another attempt to get the treaty before the Senate. So far, a vote on the issue has not been scheduled for 2014.