Obama Pledges Support for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Friday, July 24, 2009

Publication: Epilepsy Foundation of America

Washington D.C., July 24, 2009--President Obama underscored his commitment to make equal opportunities for people with disabilities a focal point of his foreign policy. At a ceremony timed to commemorate the 19thanniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Obama signed a proclamation affirming the administration’s support for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Obama called the ADA a “milestone in the long march to achieve equality for all.” He said the U.N. treaty would mirror the rights guaranteed to people with disabilities under the ADA.


President Obama with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (far left) at the signing of a proclamation affirming the administration?s support for the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Obama acknowledged several key congressional supporters of the ADA, including former Epilepsy Foundation board chair, Tony Coelho. Coelho was a key author of the ADA and was instrumental in passing the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act(ADAA), which was signed into law in September 2008. Current Epilepsy Foundation Board Chair Joyce Bender, Board Secretary Denise L. Pease and Sandy Finucane, vice president of legal and government affairs, also attended the ceremony. Finucane was recently honored by the American Association of People with Disabilities for her critical involvement in facilitating the passage of the ADAA into law.

Obama recounted his personal connection to people with disabilities. His father-in-law, Fraser Robinson, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in his 30s. Despite the challenges brought on by his disability, Robinson never missed a day of work and strove to support his family without special treatment. Obama said, “I think about him all the time when I think about these issues.” He also spoke admiringly of his predecessor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a ramp installed on the colonnade of the White House to accommodate his wheelchair. Obama noted that Roosevelt’s disability did not prevent him from affecting change in the Unites States during one of its darkest periods. In contrast, his disability made a difference in a positive way, showing that the most powerful man in the country could still govern—effectively and consistently--regardless of his disability.

President Obama also highlighted former congressman Tony Coelho’s personal experience with epilepsy discrimination in his remarks supporting the U.N. Convention.

Obama cited 650 million people worldwide with disabilities—10 percent of the world’s population. He said the U.N. treaty will call on all nations to provide equal protection and equal benefits for all citizens and reaffirm the inherent dignity of all persons with disabilities across the globe. Obama has instructed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to formally sign the Convention at the U.N. next week. The Senate will need to ratify the treaty.

While acknowledging the extraordinary strides we have made to date in ensuring benefits for people with disabilities, Obama admitted there is still more work to do. By supporting the U.N. treaty he said, “We recommit ourselves to building a world free of unnecessary barriers…”