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Senate should have passed disabilities treaty

Dec. 12, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Years ago when I was in grade school, there was one classroom for special education. It was in a remote corner of the school basement and everyone with a disability was relegated to that one room, regardless of their needs or abilities.

Thankfully, times have changed. Most folks now recognize that although people may have significant limitations in one or more areas, they may also have strengths and skills. Recognizing this, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 while the first President Bush was in office.

This became an integral part of a United Nations treaty on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has been a work in progress the past two decades. This is an international treaty and requires a two-thirds U.S. Senate majority to pass in our country. Unfortunately, last week, our Senate rejected it.

This treaty has been signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, China, France, Germany and even Russia. According to the BBC, the main thrust of the document is that "All nations should work to ensure that disabled people enjoy the same rights and freedoms as other citizens."

What happened in the U.S. Senate was that common sense and decency were trampled by politics. The vote to approve the Disability Treaty was 61-38; but treaties require a two-thirds majority. All Democratic senators voted for it; eight Republicans did so.

These eight should be given a badge of courage for standing up for what is right. Instead they will probably get aggravation from their party bosses. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is disabled from injuries in the Vietnam War, voted yes.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., now can easily vote his conscience. After all, in Indiana's 2012 Republican primary, conservatives chose Richard Mourdock, who distinguished himself in the recent campaign by showing bigotry and ignorance regarding rape. In the general election, he lost what had been a long-term Indiana Republican Senate seat.

Since there were eight Republican senators able to see further than their political noses, there is some hope that more Republicans can put sensitivity above self-centeredness and that eventually Americans will be able to ratify this treaty.

The most two-faced behavior of this whole process relates to former Senator Bob Dole, R-Kan., who once was the majority leader. Sen. Dole, 89, and a disabled WWII veteran now confined to a wheelchair, came to the Senate to endorse this treaty.

According to a report by Jennifer Steinhauer in the New York Times, "Several (Republican) members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks," while Sen. Dole was present. After Sen. Dole left the room, these senators who knew how much this treaty vote meant to Sen. Dole, changed their vote. It's bad enough to vote this treaty down, but to blatantly lie to a former senator about it is cruel.

Every one of us knows someone with a significant disability and how disability legislation has been a positive step for him or her.

Today we know people who were never expected to work but now hold steady jobs. We have learned to look beyond the disability and into the ability, which is vital as vast numbers of disabled Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return home.

Eventually, this treaty will pass. It will happen because decency will eventually trump party politics. It will happen because it is right that our nation publicly agree with the rest of the world that disabled people deserve respect and opportunity.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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