Georges Benjamin and Judith Heumann

In a meeting at APHA last week, U.S. Department of State Special Advisor Judith Heumann (left) and APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin (center) discussed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Photo by Don Hoppert/APHA

For 1 billion people worldwide with significant physical or mental disabilities the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, or CRPD, represents a chance to enjoy the highest possible standard of health and wellbeing. Currently, many are denied equal opportunities to fully participate in all aspects of life simply because there is no law to protect them.

Last year, the U.S. voted against ratifying the treaty by five votes. In October APHA wrote this letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee encouraging swift approval for ratification, and repeated the sentiment in a briefing last week with the U.S. Department of State and other public health advocates.

“We strongly support this treaty and we are hoping to work with others that feel the same way, to ensure that this important piece of legislation is passed,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD.

Department of State Special Advisor Judith Heumann joined the briefing to discuss the treaty. Currently, 137 countries and the European Union have ratified the treaty.

According to Heumann, concerns raised by treaty opponents — among them that it would threaten the rights of home-schooled children and force the U.S. to change abortion laws — are grounded in falsehoods.

“For those of us with disabilities and advocates of the disability community, we think the issue of sovereignty is ridiculous,” said Heumann, who has used a wheelchair for most of her life. “We would never want to allow anyone to come into the U.S. and change laws… We believe that ratification of the treaty will result in no new legislative changes being required by the U.S. and no additional budgetary obligations.”

The treaty would positively impact Americans — including 5.5 million veterans and 10 million children — who are often restricted from traveling, conducting business, gaining education, experiencing culture and accessing health care in many other countries without reasonable accommodation.

Equal access to reproductive health services is included in the treaty but would not change U.S. policy, Heumann said.

“Reproductive health is a part of the treaty,”  Heumann said, “because women from around the world with disabilities very much were complaining about the fact that they are frequently denied appropriate health care, clinics not being accessible, health care workers not being trained and a presumption that disabled individuals are not sexual and not being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases.

“This treaty would mean, [for example], if any country allows abortions in certain situations, disabled individuals would not be allowed to be prohibited, or required, to have an abortion.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold CPRD hearings at the end of this month. For more information visit the United States International Council on Disabilities online.