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(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen spoke on the Senate floor yesterday to affirm her strong support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Disabilities Convention is a non-discrimination treaty requiring that persons with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. It has bipartisan support in the Senate and is widely supported by the disabilities and veterans communities.

Shaheen has a long history of defending the rights of the disabled. As the Governor of New Hampshire, she helped ensure support services for New Hampshire citizens with disabilities by expanding health options, increasing community services and ending discriminatory practices by health insurance companies.

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I support ratification of the Disabilities Convention because it is the right thing to do and because it puts the United States back where we belong – as leaders of the international community in defending, protecting and promoting the equality and rights of ALL people in our world, regardless of their situation.  

From equality and nondiscrimination to equal recognition before the law to access to justice, this convention touches on issues Americans have long held near and dear to our hearts.

Ratifying this convention would reaffirm our leadership that was established under the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act legislation that the Congress passed in 1990.  This was the first of its kind domestic legislation addressing the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities.  It sent a message to the world that we would support the principles of equal treatment and nondiscrimination with respect to those with disabilities.  The legislation still stands as a model for those wishing to replicate our commitments and defend the rights of the disabled in their countries.

We really are already the gold standard when it comes to defending the rights of the disabled. Why would we not want to demonstrate to the world our intention to continue to fight for those less fortunate? 

Mr. President, I must add that this treaty is not only about ending discrimination against people with disabilities around the world.  It is also about protecting the millions of U.S. citizens who travel or live abroad.   

Ratification will provide the U.S. with a platform from which we can encourage other countries to adopt and implement the Convention’s standards and to work to end discrimination against people with disabilities.

Let’s talk about what the treaty does NOT do.  The treaty in no way shape or form infringes on America’s sovereignty as a nation.  It does absolutely nothing to change American law.  The treaty doesn’t impose any legal obligations on the United States.  These facts were confirmed by the U.S. Department of Justice during our consideration of the measure. 

And, despite what some small fringe group of organizations might have you believe, the Disabilities treaty does absolutely nothing to jeopardize parental rights.  Nor, does it in any way address the abortion issue.  We have our disagreements on this particularly sensitive issue, and I happen to stand for a woman’s choice; however, this treaty has nothing to do with abortion. 

And you don’t have to take my word for it.  In 2006, the National Right to Life Committee concluded that the use of the controversial term “reproductive health” in this treaty “cannot legitimately be misinterpreted to include abortion or create any new rights such as a right to abortion.”] 

The Convention has overwhelming support from across the political spectrum.  Over 165 disability organizations support the treaty, as do 21 major veterans and military service organizations, including the VFW, the American Legion, and the Wounded Warrior Project. 


I can’t imagine why, at a time when more of our warriors are returning home with injuries and disabilities, why we would not want to stand in support of ensuring their rights and protections at home and around the globe. 

In closing, I want to take a second to quote from John Lancaster, a veteran and the former Executive Director of the National Council on Independent Living, one of the oldest disability grassroots organizations run by and for people with disabilities.  Mr. Lancaster testified at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of the treaty, and his message is a powerful one that I hope we will all heed.

At the hearing, he said:    

“I'm appalled with some of the conversation that has been going on here today as a veteran and as someone who volunteered, laid my life on the line for freedom, rights, dignity, and now, to have this whole debate…that we're not willing to walk the talk in international circles, to step up in a forum where they advocate these things and to say ‘We're not afraid to sign this thing.’

“We aspire to what's in this convention. This is what we're about as a nation -- including people, giving them freedom, giving them rights, giving them the opportunity to work, to learn, to participate. Isn't that what we're about? Isn't that what we want the rest of the world to be about?  Well, if we aren't willing to say this is a good thing and to say it formally, what are we about, really?”

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Lancaster’s assessment.  This is exactly what we are about as a nation.  We should ratify this treaty and remind the world why defending the rights of the disabled is a principle that should be at the heart of every civil society.