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UN Treaty Stirs Concern

What Does CRPD Mean for Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities seeks to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities worldwide. It is the first international treaty to address disability rights globally. 

Principles of CRPD

While the convention does not establish new human rights, it does set out with greater clarity the obligations on states to promote, protect and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities.  The CRPD is a broad document (click here for the entire treaty) that set out general principles for the rights of people with disabilities which include:

  • Non-discrimination
  • Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
  • Respect for difference and acceptance of people with disabilities as part of human diversity
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Accessibility

The United Nations adopted the CRPD in 2006 and it was officially open for countries to sign on March 30, 2007. The CRPD “entered into force,” meaning that the treaty became law for countries that have ratified it on May 3, 2008. State parties are not bound to uphold the specific obligations of a treaty until they ratify. As of May 2012, the CRPD has 117 ratifications and 153 signatures. Click here for a map of countries that have signed and ratified the document and a list of countries.

Action by the U.S. Senate

President Obama signed the CRPD on July 30, 2009. In May 2012, the Obama Administration transmitted the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent for ratification.  The CRPD came before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at an historic moment - the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  On July 26, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved CRPD to move forward to a vote by the full Senate.

As of yet, no date has been set for the Senate vote. If the treaty comes before the Senate, a “super-majority” vote of 67 Senators in favor of the CRPD is needed for the United States to ratify and legally become a party to the treaty under international law. The Senate may vote ratify the document—or not—but there is no opportunity at this time to make changes to the specific language of the treaty.  

Implications for Children who Use Listening and Spoken Language

Some parents have voiced deep concerns and opposition to CRPD, stating that ratification raises the concern about parent’s rights and about the impact of the treaty on U.S. law. AG Bell has consulted with public policy experts who have assured that that the treaty will not change:

  • the right of parents to choose their child’s communication outcome
  • children’s educational and medical support services
  • domestic laws for people with disabilities, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or the Rehabilitation Act

During the recent Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing, Chair Sen. John Kerry reflected on the leadership of the United States in passing key civil rights laws for people with disabilities. “We’re [the United States] already way ahead of where the Disabilities Convention seeks to go,” Kerry said. The CRPD would “simply require and encourage other countries to come up to where we are.”  Kerry emphasized that the CRPD would not require any change in American law. Click here to read his remarks.

The Hills’ Congress blog notes that CRPD provides a framework for countries to enact and enforce legislation that recognizes the rights of people with disabilities that is based on the ADA.

Kerry emphasized that the CRPD ensures that American citizens and veterans - including those who have hearing loss and tinnitus from combat injuries - enjoy civil rights protections as they travel, work and live abroad.

Support for CRPD

AG Bell supports the ratification of CRPD as part of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Alliance, a coalition of 15 national organizations representing consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing, educators and educational administrators for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and the professionals that support them. The DHHA letter in support of CRPD was distributed to all 100 U.S. Senators.

Because of AG Bell’s willingness to be respectful of other organizations and individuals and their perspectives, AG Bell is consistently invited to be at the table for critical public policy discussions in order represent its mission of “Advocating Independence through Listening and Talking.” 

How AG Bell Establishes Public Policy

AG Bell chose to support CRPD—although we recognized that it did not go far enough in addressing the needs of individuals who use listening and spoken language—because we felt that it was important to ensure basic human rights for people with disabilities around the world. The association developed a position statement on CRPD that was adopted in 2010.

AG Bell follows a careful process in developing position statements that articulate the association’s position on critical issues, such as spoken language, cochlear implants, and full funding for key educational legislation. Position statements have been developed through careful review and deliberation by the Public Affairs Council (PAC) whose members represent individuals who are parents of children with hearing loss, adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and the professionals that support them. These statements are then presented to the organization’s board of directors for their review and approval.

With limited resources, AG Bell diligently represents the needs of families and individuals who choose listening and spoken language before U.S. government (including Congress, federal agencies and in the courts). AG Bell has advocated on a wide range of issues:

  • legislation that will expand the rights of individuals with disabilities
  • amicus briefs for CART in schools
  • support for individuals with disabilities on expanding career opportunities
  • ensuring regulations for relay services remain strong

An Evolving Discussion

AG Bell supports the right to express and share differing opinions and honors the right to express concerns, ideas and frustrations in a respectful discussion. While everyone may not agree with the association’s position and while the language in CRPD does not go far enough in support of those who choose a listening and spoken language option for their children or themselves, we encourage you to consider documents such as the CRPD the continuation of a conversation about the importance of protecting the rights of individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. AG Bell encourages an ongoing dialogue about CRPD on our Facebook fan page as well as AG Bell’s Facebook group.  AG Bell acknowledges and supports the rights of individuals to contact their senators about this issue.

While AG Bell recognizes that not everyone agrees with the association’s position, AG Bell believes that this broad document can have a positive impact on the approximately 1 billion people with disabilities around the world, particularly children with disabilities in developing countries where there is no system for early hearing detection and intervention, where there is no access to education through IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act, and no right to accommodation or prohibition from job discrimination through the ADA.

AG Bell, Families and the Future

In moving forward, AG Bell will continue to be a tireless advocate on your behalf for children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing who use listening and spoken language.  In coming months, AG Bell will advance the needs of children who use listening and spoken language in the reauthorization of key legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind ).

For more information on CRPD, review AG Bell’s Fact Sheet.