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Axel Leblois

  The Access Line

07/27/2009

U.S. Signing of the Convention

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On July 24, 2009, President Obama formally announced that the United States will sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Our readers will find hereafter excerpts of his remarks, a link to his full proclamation, a report by Ambassador Luis Gallegos, G3ict Chairman, who attended the ceremony at the White House, and an analysis of next steps to be expected.

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President Obama: The United States will join 140 other nations and sign the Convention on the Rights for Persons with Disabilities, an “extraordinary treaty ”

“I'm proud to announce that next week, the United States of America will join 140 other nations in signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first new human rights convention of the 21st century.
 
This extraordinary treaty calls on all nations to guarantee rights like those afforded under the ADA.  It urges equal protection and equal benefits before the law for all citizens; reaffirms the inherent dignity and worth and independence of all persons with disabilities worldwide.  I've instructed Ambassador Susan Rice to formally sign the Convention at the United Nations in New York next week, and I hope that the Senate can give swift consideration and approval to the Convention once I submit it for their advice and consent”. 

Read the Full Proclamation of President Obama

G3ict Chairman, H.E. Luis Gallegos, Ambassador of Ecuador to the United States and past Chair of the UN General Assembly Ad-Hoc Preparatory Committee for the Convention, gives a first-hand account on the July 24 ceremony at the White House. 

An Emotional Moment

“It was emotional for me to witness this decision.  We were amongst friends that have tried to advance the cause of disability worldwide and called for the United States to sign the Convention.  President Obama spoke eloquently of the importance of inclusion and the elimination of segregation and discrimination. Secretary of State Clinton expressed the importance of the UN Convention and the world wide reach of human rights. The next step is the ratification by the Senate.

For me, as first Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly of the UN that drafted the Convention, the announcement by the President reflected the enormous success of the disability community that has moved the U.S. to recognize the importance of a universal rights based convention.

After six years of intense negotiations and hundreds of activities all over the world, the U.S. will join 140 states signatories on the 30th of July in NY.

I remember that in March of 2004 I was invited by Representative Tom Lanthos to speak about the United Nations Convention at a briefing of the House of Representatives.  I often had to leave the negotiating room at the United Nations to foster the Convention process in many capitals of the world. I also remember the disability community representatives who came into the rooms of the United Nations to speak with one voice and left with a new universal language of disability rights. Many of them were at the White House today.

Fabiola and I were honored to be there amongst our American friends. We began as negotiators and diplomats, we became activists and believers.

It has been a wonderful endeavor."


In attendance at the ceremony were leaders of U.S. advocacy organizations supporting the cause of persons with disabilities, Members of Congress and of the executive branch as well as government and civil society leaders who supported the signature by the United States of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ambassador Gallegos and his spouse Fabiola were honored to be the only foreign diplomats invited to the ceremony and congratulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

G3ict’s Analysis: ICT Accessibility in the Context of the United States Commitment to the CRPD

By announcing the signature by the United States of the Convention on the occasion of the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted on July 26, 1990, President Barak Obama fulfilled his campaign promises.  While taking a clear and strong position in support of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, President Obama emphasized accessibility Rights including to technology applications and services in the context of education and employment.  “As we reflect upon the past and look toward a brighter future, we recognize that our country has made great progress. More than ever before, Americans with disabilities enjoy greater access to technology and economic self-sufficiency. More communities are accessible, more children with disabilities learn alongside their peers, and more employers recognize the capabilities of people with disabilities.  Despite these achievements, much work remains to be done. People with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much likelier to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education.”  

Next Steps:

While President Obama has fulfilled his promise of having the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities signed by the United States, it will now need to go through the ratification process. 

The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations chaired by Senator John Kerry will review the Convention and among many factors, consider its implications for U.S. laws and regulations. 

Towards the end of last year, the National Council on Disability published an analysis of the gaps between the dispositions of the Convention and U.S. laws and regulations.  Asked about his opinion at the recent G3ict Steering Committee meeting, John Kemp, Chair of the G3ict Research Committee and a prominent Advocate of the Disability Rights stated his belief that those are entirely manageable. 

At the IEEE meeting in Boston last week, it also became apparent that those circumstances may in fact constitute an opportunity in the specific field of ICT accessibility: lots of technology advances have occurred over the past few years and many more solutions exist today in the field of digital accessibility and assistive technologies which could benefit from a fresh look at current dispositions.
 
From a global perspective, the United States are a very important player in the ICT industry and in the area of ICT accessibility in particular. At a time when many countries look towards adopting new ICT accessibility policies and programs, the United States may be in a position to adopt innovative assistive and accessible technologies programs and solutions as part of President Obama’s ambitious program. And with the Convention calling for international cooperation to promote new solutions, all stakeholders could benefit: disabled persons around the world, the ICT industry, standard development organizations, large users of ICT applications, employers and education institutions among many.  

In this context, President Obama’s mention of technology, employment and education is a promising indicator of what the near future may hold for ICT accessibility programs and innovations in the United States.  A very encouraging sign indeed which all G3ict Stakeholders from around the world very much welcome.