The Arc Urges the Senate to Act on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

CRPDIn advance of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing today on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), The Arc is urging the Senate to support this treaty because it is the right thing to do for American citizens with disabilities who travel abroad and for the millions of people around the world that currently don’t have the rights that we enjoy through our long history of disability rights advocacy.

“This treaty is modeled after The Americans with Disabilities Act, which affirms the rights of American citizens with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations and services operated by private entities. The Senate’s failure to pass the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last year marked a sad day for individuals with disabilities across the globe and an embarrassing moment for our nation.

“Today’s hearing is an opportunity for us to fix the wrongs of last year and join more than a hundred other nations, millions of disability advocates, family members, and self-advocates in supporting the human rights for individuals with disabilities internationally. We will be following this process closely, and hope to see the Senate move forward with the CRPD,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Over the last year, The Arc has been working with numerous disability, Veteran’s, and civil rights advocacy groups to garner support for ratifying the treaty, which will promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. For months, The Arc’s Public Policy team and grassroots advocates across the country have been working to promote the CRPD and ensure ratification.  Currently more than 650 local, state and national disability and allied groups support the treaty.

The United States signed the CRPD on July 30, 2009, joining the 141 other signing nations.  As of October 2013, the Convention had 138 ratifications and 158 signatories.  On May 17, 2012, following almost three years of thorough review, the Obama Administration submitted its treaty package to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent for ratification.  On December 4, 2012, the United States Senate considered the ratification of the CRPD but fell 5 votes short of the 66 needed – two-thirds of Senators who voted.

The Declaration: Just Do One Thing

For the last few days, I’ve been at the Coleman Institute Conference on Technology for People with Cognitive Disabilities near Boulder, Colorado . I’m proud that The Arc helped to launch the Declaration of Rights for People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access, a stunning Jeffersonian document written by a small group of dedicated thought leaders in technology and cognitive disabilities.  This document, which is available in several versions to ensure equal access to diverse readers at http://www.colemaninstitute.org/declaration, firmly reminds the United States and the world that communications platforms are public domains and therefore need to be accessible for all.

Why is this so important?  Imagine, if you will, being unable to use your cellphone, computer and internet, ATMs and electronic banking, online job application forms, online insurance, health information, emergency information, weather, local community information… and anything else you access through electronic or wireless means.  Imagine that while you might have the equipment, the languages and instructions that are used in all of these platforms are written in a confusing language that you don’t understand, maybe in words that are too small or which you can’t see clearly and which demand speed in processing that are too fast for you to react to. Now imagine (this is the easy part) that these platforms are how the world around you communicates with and operates upon. But because the platforms upon which the communications are built are not written into your language and communication needs, there is no way for you to move in this social space.  You are, as a result, wholly dependent on someone else to help you translate the information you need to know.  This is largely the current reality for people with cognitive disabilities in terms of technology and information.

People with cognitive disabilities include those with intellectual disabilities, Alzheimer’s, traumatic brain injury, some psychiatric disorders.  While these impairments are the reality for this population, it does not mean that they should by virtue of their impairment be forever excluded from the public communications domain or marginalized as full citizens of this world.  They deserve equal access to technology and information that support public communication and which have become a mainstay of social interaction.  The Declaration states without apology that technology and information must be accessible to all, not just to those who can read or process or be physically adept in seeing, hearing, and typing to interact with this system. There is a sense of urgency to this because cloud-based communication platforms are solidifying rapidly, and if we don’t take action now, people with diverse communication needs risk being forever excluded.

And we can’t let that happen.

The Arc has been working on this Declaration with other thought leaders in cognitive disabilities and technology to ensure that the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are included in this new social movement.  The Arc and now 57 organizations and even more individuals have formally endorsed the Declaration.  I urge each of you to go online and read it yourself. The more people sign on, the more visibility, awareness, and power this movement will gain to advance accessibility in the new cloud based communications and information field.  Here’s one more thing: Earlier this week, our small group of thought leaders went around the room and promised to do at least one thing to advance this social movement.  As you read this, I ask you to do one thing as well to help us advance this important cause.  Perhaps you will review the Declaration and endorse it, or perhaps to send this to your personal networks.  Or maybe you can print it off and hang it in your office or send it to your child’s teacher or bring it to your local wireless communications provider.  Maybe you’ll write your own blog, post it on Facebook, tweet it out, talk about it in a staff meeting, or simply think about ways to help while you tend your late summer garden… the list of possibilities of what you can do is endless, just as the possibilities of how this modest document might change the world for people with cognitive disabilities.

Do one thing.

Help us change the world.

We are The Arc.

The Arc Endorses the Declaration on the Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access

People with cognitive disabilities have an equal right to technology and information access. A formal declaration on this right was officially unveiled at the Thirteenth Annual Coleman Institute National Conference on Cognitive Disability and Technology, held October 2, 2013, in Broomfield, Colorado. The Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access is a statement of principles: the rights of ALL people to inclusion and choice in relation to technology and information access.

“Cognitive disabilities” include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, severe and persistent mental illness, brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. People with cognitive disabilities are estimated to comprise over 60% of the world’s total population of people with disabilities. The vast majority of people with cognitive disabilities have limited or no access to comprehensible information and usable communications technologies.

“The formal declaration is being presented at a time when the pace of the digital age is accelerating rapidly. Access to technology and information access is essential for community and social participation, employment, education, health, and general communication. Advocates for people with cognitive disabilities may use this declaration to stimulate greater attention nationally and worldwide to the possibilities now at hand for people with cognitive disabilities through technology while promoting their rights as citizens to access to it,” said David Braddock, Professor of Psychiatry and Executive Director of The Coleman Institute on Cognitive Disabilities at the University of Colorado.

“Technology can expose individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as those with cognitive disabilities to a new world. The advantages of technology are something that every individual deserves to have equal access to, which is why The Arc supports the Declaration on the Rights of People with Cognitive Disabilities to Technology and Information Access. Technology can be particularly beneficial to individuals with disabilities as it can serve as a communication device, assist in education, and overall promote independence,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

To read the complete declaration, and to personally endorse it, visit the Coleman Institute website, at: http://www.colemaninstitute.org/declaration

Happy 40th Birthday Section 504!

San Francisco Sit-InIn 1973, Congress passed the very first civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability by any entity that receives federal funds. Senator Hubert Humphrey was a champion of civil rights for people with disabilities. He said, “[T]he time has come to firmly establish the right of disabled Americans to dignity and self-respect as equal and contributing members of society and to end the virtual isolation of millions of children and adults.”

As with any law, regulations needed to be written to define who a person with a disability was and what constituted discrimination. There was much controversy surrounding Section 504 and getting the regulations published was a battle that lasted for several years. Disability advocates had to file a lawsuit to get the government to finalize the regulations. Unfortunately, the court did not set a date by which the regulations had to be published. The disability community grew more frustrated. A coalition was formed to lead an effort to get regulations out. The coalition was called the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.

The federal government set up a task force to study the regulations, but failed to include any individuals with disabilities among its members. The disability community feared that the rules were being watered down significantly. Rather than wait for weak regulations to come out and then submit comments, the community borrowed from the African American Civil Rights movement and organized a sit-in at the San Francisco office of what was then the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW). The San Francisco sit-in lasted for 28 days! A refrain from those days was, “We can’t even get on the back of the bus.”

A Congressional hearing was held at the San Francisco HEW office where leaders of the disability rights movement (including Judy Heumann and Ed Roberts) gave compelling testimony about the discrimination each of them faced on a daily basis. A smaller group of disability rights advocates traveled to Washington and demonstrated in front of the HEW Secretary’s home and the church where the President was worshiping. Finally, on April 28, 1977 the Secretary of HEW signed the regulations.

Today, every federal agency has Section 504 regulations concerning the programs that receive funds from that particular agency. And today, discrimination is prohibited on the basis of disability in education, employment, state programs, health care facilities, airports, public libraries, public parks, local government buildings and programs; the list goes on and on.