New York, N.Y. — The worldwide struggle by people with disabilities for equal rights led the United Nations to establish the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, 1992. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted by the United Nations in 2006.
Some 177 countries have ratified it – but not the United States, which has also failed to ratify human rights treaties defending women, children and migrant workers.
In 2019 the U.S. Senate once again refused to ratify the CRPD. In the article “Let’s Try Again: Why the United States Should Ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities,” human rights attorney and professor Arlene S. Kanter explains why the U.S. government continues to deny equal rights and justice to disabled people.
Kanter notes that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAAA) limit the rights of people with disabilities by using a legal definition of disability that requires someone to have a “physical or mental impairment” that “substantially limits a major life activity,” or “a record of such an impairment.”
This places the burden on the disabled person to provide medical evidence to prove disability. By contrast, the UN’s CRPD does not include any limited specific definition of disability nor require medical proof.
The stated purpose of the ADA and the ADAAA is to prohibit discrimination against disabled people, one individual at a time. The CRPD, however, goes beyond the anti-discrimination ADA model of equality and acknowledges that “full participation by persons with disabilities will result in their enhanced sense of belonging and in significant advances in the human, social and economic development of society and the eradication of poverty.”
Both the ADA and the ADAAA limit the disabled person to seeking access to an accommodation that is “reasonable” and does not constitute an undue hardship upon the individual landlord or employer. They place the stressful financial burden of litigation, with rigid deadlines, on the disabled person. The CRPD treaty, on the other hand, guarantees all accessible accommodations – unless they present an undue burden on the entire state and not just the individual employer or landlord. No obligation is placed on the disabled person to litigate.
Finally, the CRPD affirms the right of all people with disabilities to live in the community and have sufficient support to guarantee such independence. Both the ADA and the ADAAA, and many court decisions diluting ADA/ADAAA rights, do not sufficiently protect this right.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities Webinar
On Dec. 3, the Peoples Power Assemblies/NYC is hosting a webinar for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the sixth annual action on that day. PPA/NYC’s Facebook post reads:
“Over 50% of people murdered by police are disabled, and a high percentage of those disabled people are neuro-divergent Black and Brown folks. PPA/NYC is dedicated to fighting the oppression of people with disabilities.
“In this infamous year of 2020, we will discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the disabled community, white racism within disability community, the effects of racism on Black and Brown disabled folks, who may also be GNC and/or LGBTQIA – intersectionality and how capitalism, racism, misogyny, cisheterosexism impact people with disabilities. Also essential to our dialogue are conversations by folks who are neuro-divergent and the struggles of people with hidden disabilities. Finally, disability rights vs. disability justice and in-community conversations about resistance strategies and building disability justice within our movements.”
On Dec. 3, 2015, PPA/NYC-led protesters rocked New York City’s Penn Station during rush hour to protest the murder of Jeremy McDole, a 28-year-old African-American paraplegic who had been shot and killed by police in Wilmington, Del., that Sept. 23, while in his wheelchair. PPA/NYC leader and activist Terrea Mitchell, a woman with disabilities, led protesters through all the sections of Penn Station with chants of “Jeremy McDole! Say his name!” “Disabled people need decent jobs and quality health care, not police terror!” and “Disabled Black lives matter!”
In 2017, PPA/NYC led activists who streamed through the Macy’s department store on ramps between the floors and through the aisles. When they reached a sizable clear space, they held an impromptu indoor rally to make people aware of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities.
The next year, PPA/NYC targeted the renovated subway station at 23rd Street and 6th Avenue to protest the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s “tradition” of spending money on cosmetic renovations without spending a penny on accessibility for desperately needed elevators and more “economical” use of wheelchair ramps. Only 20 percent of New York City’s transit system is accessible for riders who are disabled, the worst in the U.S.
In 2019, PPA/NYC returned to Herald Square, Macy’s and Penn Station to demand fully accessible transportation for all New Yorkers and real affordable housing and health care. Their flier read: “We fight, each to their ability, against the murder, mass incarceration, warehousing and institutionalization of people with disabilities, especially Black and Brown folks.”
All these International Day of Persons with Disabilities protests were supported by many disabled individuals and organizations. Our allies include Workers World Party and its Disability Justice and Rights Caucus, which has included PPA/NYC leader Terrea Mitchell as a guest speaker on July 30 and Oct. 22 webinars. (tinyurl.com/y52pxv3m and tinyurl.com/y48u2dla)
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and new restrictions on outdoor gatherings for the disability justice and rights movement, PPA/NYC will host a webinar on Dec. 3 at 7:00 p.m. Contact PPA/NYC at [email protected] to get access information.
Yudelovich is a Disability Justice and Rights Caucus of Workers World Party organizer with neurodivergent and auditory disabilities. Our caucus can be contacted at [email protected] To attend the PPA/NYC webinar: https://fb.me/e/fcvfzbk3F.