Essay: The Roots of Opposition to the U.N. Disability Convention

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Update: The U.S. Senate rejected the treaty that was "intended to protect the rights of those with with disabilities."

Takeaway host John Hockenberry, who uses a wheelchair, looks at the people opposing the United Nations Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities.

The Senate is expected to vote today on an international treaty that would sign the United States up to a convention protecting the rights of people with disabilities in nations around the world. The 'convention,' as it is called, would establish a set of principles calling for access to jobs, to public facilities, to education. One hundred nations have already ratified it.

In a sense, it enshrines some of the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act into international law.

The convention has bipartisan support. Former Senator Bob Dole is a backer, so is John McCain, Senator John Kerry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has seen the Americans with Disabilities Act as a positive force for business in the United States.

So who is calling this a dangerous encroachment on American sovereignty?

Mike Lee: "This is an emotional issue for many"

That's Utah Senator Mike Lee who realizes that I, as a disabled person, might be too emotional to think clearly about the world recognizing my rights to access to a business or a building — access that I have had to fight for for 37 years in a wheelchair. Yes, it's too emotional for me to be credible on wanting people with disabilities all over the world to have the same rights I have had to fight for here in Americas.

When it comes to people disabled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans and Iraqis and Afghans should not have their lives end because they survived the fighting with a disability. So that's one argument, that as a disabled person I'm too emotional to think clearly about my own rights. Here's another argument against the convention from Senator Jim DeMint.

Senator Jim DeMint: "We need to continue to lead the world"

I don't really even understand what South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint is saying there. Somehow the United States will be prohibited from doing all the things it wants to for people with disabilities by the United Nations under this treaty.

Senator DeMint, this champion of the disabled, failed to mention how in 2010 he opposed a simple regulation that public pools be accesible for people with disabilities. He called that a government overreach. The Senator doesn't want to swim in water with people not like himself. That sounds familiar. 

The bitterest opponent of the Convention on Rights for the Disabled comes from former Senator Rick Santorum.

Rick Santorum: The convention is a "poison pill"

Santorum's secret fatal flaws would allow a United Nations takeover of the U.S. government while we're not looking. The peacekeepers would just ride in on wheelchairs unnoticed and that would be the end of U.S. Democracy.

Santorum was defeated by a majority in Pennsylvania back in 2006. He was repudiated by GOP voters during the 2012 election campaign. So now he picks a new target, one perhaps more powerless than him: people with disabilities. He can demonstrate his ideological purity about the U.N., and show his influence in the Senate by going after people with disabilities. They won't fight back.

Tell that to the disabled veterans Santorum and his fellow Senators helped create in the war on Iraq which, I recall, went forward in direct defiance of the United Nations. Was Senator Santorum worried about the U.N. takeover back then?

I suspect not. Who do we fear most? The United Nations Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities, or Rick Santorum and his friends?

Michael Farris: "Americans should make the law for America"

Hosted by:

John Hockenberry

Comments [8]


I think Mr. Farris would be an interesting study for an investigative team. He is really a nobody with a puffed up Wikipedia page and a big megaphone who has somehow scuttled three UN treaties: CRC, CEDAW and now CRPD. I doubt that there is legitimate source of his power. Who is giving him such reach?

Dec. 06 2012 09:22 AM
Meg from CT

I'm glad John H expressed his position and responsibly told us he was doing so. I don't think any person can say they really know the position of a person who is directly affected by the laws and it is very important to hear from the people for whom the law is designed.

Keep up the great work John and keep talking about this.

Dec. 05 2012 03:24 PM
kylee dornbush from Omaha, NE

Too close to the issue? Really? Were women "too close to the issue" when trying to achieve the right to vote? People with disabilities do need to speak for themselves. This a civil rights issue. If they don't speak for themselves and for their rights, who will? I understand that this would be a worldwide UN law and that may be what would hinder its passing in its current form, however, the "too close to the issue"point is a ridiculous argument in suggesting the interview is less valid. Nobody would have a better understanding of disability and the impact of this law.

Dec. 05 2012 07:05 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Finally the U.N. can do something positive and meaningful...It is hard to imagine anything negative from this treaty... I shake my head at this world so much in disbelief, I feel like a bobble head.

Dec. 04 2012 10:30 PM
Richard Spiegel

Thank you, John, for saying what you think and feel. I share your opinion, and was glad to hear it expressed. When other interviewers try to hide their biases, the biases are evident anyway in smarmy inflections. You gave the guy an opportunity to state his views and even praised him at the end for his consistency.

Dec. 04 2012 06:28 PM

Who did he bully? He just played and commented on the ignorance spewed by the arrogant right-wingers who voted against this treaty - that should have been a no-brainer. Thank goodness for voices like this man who can stand up for all people with disabilities.

Dec. 04 2012 06:21 PM
K8clause from Pacific NW

dexgr42, this wasn't an "interview" so much as a radio editorial. Of course, Mr. Hockenberry is too close to the issue to report on it as a journalist. However, I found his perspective refreshing and engaging, and I'm glad that he clearly labeled the essay as his own opinion multiple times. I didn't feel that he bullied the interviewee, though he did disagree with him. Mr. Hockenberry even ended the interview when he felt it was getting too heated and before he said something unprofessional.

Sometimes, stories need to be shared in was that are NOT objective, because people in general are subjective about everything. This is one of those topics.

Dec. 04 2012 01:54 PM
dexgr42 from Seattle

This interview was quite unprofessional and hard to listen to. I normally enjoy Mr. Hockenberry's interviews, but this one may have hit too close to home for him. I expect an interviewer to ask probing questions, but not to act as the expert for the opposing viewpoint or to basically tell the interviewee he is ignorant and his viewpoint has no merit. If the Takeaway wanted to present the pro and the con side of this issue they should have booked another guest, not relied on Mr. Hockenberry. The problem isn’t that I disagreed with Mr. Hockenberry’s viewpoint, it is that he should not have been bullying the person he was interviewing.

Dec. 04 2012 10:03 AM

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