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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

RE: Rights of People with Disabilities
By Kevin Gadsey


August 10, 2012

Dear Editor:

I am writing today as the Independent Living Advocate for SAIL Ketchikan to respond to Ms. Mitchell’s concerns about the possible ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities by the United States Senate.

Many of the concerns Ms. Mitchell raises about the CRPD were addressed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early July, prior to submission of the treaty to the entire Senate. I watched all three hours of the testimony and debate, located here on the internet.

A long line of Senators, including John McCain, veterans’ advocates, disability advocates, the AARP, and human rights lawyers spoke convincingly of the need for the USA to ratify this treaty on disability rights. Former President George H.W. Bush, who signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990, summarized their comments in a statement supporting the CRPD: “The United States has the opportunity to take the next step, continue its leadership in disability rights, and open the doors of exclusion that shut out people with disabilities around the world by joining the 106 countries that have ratified the CRPD. The CRPD is the first international treaty to address disability rights globally. It was inspired in part by the United States’ lead in recognizing the rights of individuals with disabilities. Ratification of the CRPS would not require any changes to US law. It would have no impact on the federal budget. It will promote US business interests by creating a level playing field for US corporations by requiring businesses abroad to meet accessibility requirements similar to the ADA. It would benefit all Americans with disabilities (including veterans) and their families living, working, or traveling abroad. It would enable United States to contribute formerly its leadership on disability issues to the rest of the world.”

Hundreds of disability and veterans’ organizations, including Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL), have signed on in support of the CRPD, believing that it is as important as the Americans with Disabilities Act to guarantee the freedoms and independence of individuals with disabilities. This is why we were so surprised to read Ms. Mitchell’s comparisons of the CRPD to Hitler and Belgium’s current eugenics program.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most disability advocates in America believe that disabilities, in general, are a natural and potentially positive part of the human experience. If any of us feared for a moment that the CRPD might bring about another eugenics situation like Nazi Germany, all of us would stand (or sit!) and scream against the idea. In fact, many of us in the disability community are taking valuable time to support the ratification.

Ms. Mitchell’s concerns about other countries’ choices and the United Nations potential meddling in US affairs were addressed thoroughly during the Senate meeting listed above and a subsequent meeting. The bottom line is that each country can interpret the words of the treaty in the view of its culture and Constitution. Sweden will do it their way, and America can implement it our way. If, however, America does not ratify this treaty, then we will not be at the table to influence and learn from best practices in disability rights.

Richard Tombaugh, Former US Attorney General, 1988-91, and C. Boyden Gray, former White House Counsel to President George H.W. Bush, co-authored a letter addressing these concerns: “With the inclusion of the reservations, understandings, and a declaration (RUDs) recommended by the administration to be part of the Senate resolution, the CRPD will require no changes to US federal or state law, and it will have no impact on the federal budget. A reservation regarding federalism will ensure that the obligations of the US under the CRPD are limited to the authority of the federal government and do not reach areas of state and local jurisdiction.

Tombaugh and Gray continue writing: “Nothing in this treaty prevents parents from homeschooling or making decisions for their children… The CRPD recognizes and protects the important role of the family and specifically protects children from being separated from their parents on the basis of disability. We take a backseat to no one in our defense of the rights of parents to raise their children or in our support for our federalist system of government with sovereignty at both the federal and state levels of government… The CRPD protects the critical role of the family, the role of parents in raising children with disabilities, and prohibits the dissolution or separation of families because one or both of the parents are persons with disabilities.”

Ms. Mitchell should be commended for her commitment to parental rights in the USA. Most parents are going to do anything and everything they can to insure the success of their children, disabled and non-disabled. Article 7 of the CRPD, about which Ms. Mitchell believes may remove parental rights in the USA, is written to protect the rights of children with disabilities who were NOT lucky enough to be born to parents who care, just as others parts of the CRPD were written to protect adults with disabilities who are being abused by spouses, family members, and caregivers. Even in America, only a small percentage of cases of abuse are reported, even though the majority of Americans with disabilities will experience some sort of abuse in their lifetime.

In closing, I’d like to share a story from my life that exemplifies the need for the CRPD for America, and for humanity. 12 years ago, I was working as an intern in Florida. I met a family at the mall who had a 12–year-old son with my same disability, Arthrogryposis. The boy was stuck in a manual, old-style wheelchair with his bare, curved feet sticking out for everyone to see.

He was mesmerized by my scooter wheelchair, seeing it as a form of freedom for him, because his parents quickly informed me that they would not allow their son to have a simple surgery to straighten his feet and gain some walking ability. They believed that no doctor’s intervention was needed because God would heal their son very soon.

I told them of my surgery at 6 months old, and how it gave me increased mobility during those formative years, even though many friends and family still prayed for a miracle for me. The parents of this young man told me that allowing the surgery would be the same as not having faith in God. I argued and pleaded with them to at least let him use a power wheelchair so he could have independence while believing in and waiting for that miracle. The father told me angrily that they wanted their son to be confined, so that his faith in God would grow enough so that he could be healed.

SAIL and I certainly support parents’ rights to teach their children their values and faith. However, we at SAIL would argue that the boy was being isolated from his potential life, and isolation is a form of abuse. We would never want to see a child in a similar situation taken from his family, but we would want to insure access to medical or adaptive technology solutions that will lead to freedom and independence.

Many children and adults with disabilities around America still live in similar situations. Our disability-related laws in America are definitely better than most, if not all, other countries, but we should think of what we can learn from and share with other countries if we ratify the CRPD and have a seat at the table.

Finally, the CRPD is an extension of the promise of independence for Americans with disabilities. By ratifying the treaty, our leaders are stating that a eugenics situation like Nazi Germany or an institutionalized system like North Korea will never happen in a future America, even if “we the people” elect the wrong leader, or the economy goes off the cliff. As an American with a disability, in the name of all those people with disabilities killed or institutionalized in America in decades past, and for future generations of Americans with disabilities, I want that guarantee, so they can get an education, hold a competitive job, raise a family, and even pay taxes!


Kevin Gadsey
Independent Living Advocate
Southeast Alaska Independent Living – Ketchikan Branch
Ketchikan, AK


Received August 10, 2012 - Published August 10, 2012

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