Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The disabled and the boogeymen

Former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole is wheeled into
the Senate last Tuesday. Photo:
CSPAN2 via AP)
I am baffled by the Republican Senators who, on December 4, blocked the ratification of the UN disability rights treaty last week.
The fact that 126 of the 155 signatories had already ratified it, that the disabilities community and veterans groups supported it, and that several senior Republican legislators (including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, former President H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain) urged ratification did not move them.
The Senators' arguments were flimsy and far-fetched. Two that topped their list were the fears that the treaty could supersede conflicting US legislation and that the parents of disabled children might be prohibited from home-schooling. "Those who hold the treaty up as some kind of threat are seeing boogeymen", was how USA Today put it. But they only needed to whittle down support to less than a two- thirds majority in order to succeed. And they did that.
My own country, on the other hand, ratified the treaty with nary an objection. But was that only an empty gesture? After all, over here, acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities still lags significantly behind many other developed countries.
While writing this, I was alerted by my daughter, P., to a TV news report. There have been a string of attacks, e.g. arson, against several residences for the disabled. Apparently the perpetrators are angry neighbors. Footage was shown of demonstrations against homes for the disabled in cities around the country. We were treated to the usual rants about how these homes lower real estate values. But here was an infuriating twist: the mayors of those cities led the protesters!
So it's no surprise that we need a radio commercial that's airing frequently these days. It goes something like this:

Hello. I'd like not to reserve a table at your restaurant.

- Great. When will you not be coming?

Tomorrow evening.

- OK. And how many people won't you be?

We won't be a party of six.

- And would you like not to sit indoors or outdoors?

We won't sit outdoors.

- Fine. I have not made your reservation.

In case the point was lost in translation, it was to highlight that many, if not most of our restaurants, theaters and even office buildings still flout the law and are wheelchair-inaccessible.


Anonymous said...

As a person with a disability and the mother of several children with disabilities, I too was shocked at the vote. I followed twitter for several days before the vote. The opposition were organized groups of home-schoolers who tweeted that they were afraid the UN would come and take their kids away, or tell them how to raise them or make them put accessible bathrooms in their homes. They wouldn't listen to reason at all. They complained that the treaty required them to register their children with disabilities with the state. I explained that US law already requires that they register all kids with the state (birth certificates) and the feds (social security numbers). They were told a lot of paranoid-sounding falsities and they organized well and made lots of calls to their Senators. If it comes back for a vote, we need to organize like-minded parents who look out for their kids' futures, get positive press, and get everyone we know to call their Senators.

The Sound of the Silent said...

Perhaps, advocates of ratification thought this would be a shoo in; after all any reasonable person can't see any downside to this treaty. As you urged, before the next vote, disabilities activists will need to take a leaf from the Republicans' book.