Inclusion Zone: Why We Should Care about the Disability Treaty

ANNOUNCER: Blog Talk Radio.

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MARY DOLAN: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Mary and Melissa show, broadcasting live from the nation’s capital. This is Mary Dolan.

MELISSA RIZIO: Hi everyone, good afternoon, this is Melissa, welcome.

MARY: Welcome to our show. We are so pleased to have you all join us today, and our show is by and for parents of children with disabilities, discussing the issues, sharing resources, and hoping to mobilize parents of children with disabilities so that we can make a better America for all of our citizens with disabilities. I’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors, Dolan Law, LLC, Hackett Landscaping, and Jonathan Holtzman, thank you for your kind support. Today we have a very exciting show. We’re going to be discussing the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The word “convention” is a United Nations term meaning treaty, but what this Convention is, it’s supposed to equalize rights and opportunities for people with disabilities around the world, and now it’s before the U.S. Senate for possible ratification. Today we are so thrilled to have a number of guests joining us to explain what this treaty is, why was it even conceived of, why we should worry about it here in the United States, and what the chances are for our nation to ratify it and make us culpable to it. We’re gonna have with us former governor Dick Thornburgh, former Governor of Pennsylvania and former U.S. Attorney General under George Bush, the father. We have former Congressman Tony Coelho, who was just the past immediate chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and we have Mr. David Morrissey who will be also joining us and David is the Executive Director of the United States International Council on Disabilities. So, these three gentlemen will soon be dialing in and we welcome your calls to our phone line at 646-716-6879. We also invite your email questions to any and all of our guests at So we’re gonna get started in just a minute, but Melissa, when I started talking to you about the Convention, you thought it was a meeting that we were all being invited to.

MELISSA: Yeah, because the word “convention” always makes it sound like a party (laughs) that people convene and it’s a hot lunch day.

MARY: Exactly, exactly, so actually in the earliest days of the Convention talk, whenever I started talking to people about it, they said “yeah, it sounds great, I’d love to come!” But actually what we’re talking about is a treaty

MELISSA: So the word convention means treaty.

MARY: It means treaty.

MELISSA: So we’re talking about the treaty and here we go. We have our first guest on the line.

MARY: So hi, David, is that you?


MARY: Terrific, terrific. Everyone, please welcome David Morrissey, Executive Director of the International Council on Disability. David, thank you for joining us today.

MORRISSEY: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Mary and Melissa, thanks for having me.

MARY: Fantastic, thank you. David, let’s just dive right into it. David, in layman’s terms, tell us what is this Convention, and what’s it gonna do?

MORRISSEY: Sure. CRPD as we sometimes call it, that stands for the Convention on the RIghts of Persons with Disabilities is an international treaty that was inspired by, in many ways, U.S. leadership in recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act is over 20 years old now, and when the American community passed that law, the world took notice, and the idea that we would protect the equal rights of people with disabilities had a profound ripple effect around the world and we saw countries around the world really begin to embrace the idea and over the course of that 20 years it’s been so exciting to see a global movement of countries taking on disability rights and that’s been so made possible by people with disabilities ourselves standing up, organizing, and advocating. And that has been so crucial that parents of kids with disabilities have been at that table because the right to an education, the right to a future as an employable adult, as an adult who can make their own decisions, who can live independently in the community, it’s an exciting vision that again, I think the American disability community was a leader in helping making that come true and it’s had this exciting ripple effect around the world, and that’s resulted in having a global standard put on paper in the form of an international multilateral treaty. The CRPD embraces a social model for disability rights. It marks really an important shift from some of the world’s previous thinking about disability, such as what we would sometimes call the charitable model of disability, where society may regard that people with disabilities really are only the objects of charity, rather than active members and equal members in their society and so this shift to a social model is really about empowering people with disabilities. The treaty, the CRPD was drafted through a very interactive, participatory process at the United Nations that included people with disabilities at the table, not only in government official delegations, but also at the table through non-governmental advocacy organizations and wonderful groups like Inclusion International or Disabled Peoples International or Rehabilitation International all made sure that the voices of stakeholders were at the table, and that included parents of children with disabilities.

MARY: All right. David, thank you for mentioning that parents were there, that’s great to know that that lobby group was also represented there. But what brought this about? This convention?

MORRISSEY: Sure. I think as the world moved forward in recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities and protecting those rights in law, we saw a number of different approaches in different countries and because of greater cross-border knowledge sharing, collaboration, people around the world were sharing ideas and looking at each other’s laws about the rights of persons with disabilities to education or the right to be treated fairly in the workplace, and so there was a lot of cross-border good practice sharing and seeding of knowledge. And so the idea of some global standards really took hold, and it was in 2001 that the ambassador from Mexico called for the drafting of a treaty that would put on paper what those basic global standards are so that countries would have a guide star to work toward as they developed their own laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, and we’ve seen that. It worked, because today we have 122, or 123 nations have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and so the embrace for that global standard has really been profound.

MARY: Okay, well let’s jump right into this, the controversial one, but why should we care here in the United States? We got ours, we got a nice ADA, it’s not perfect, but you know. Why are you taking up my time talking about this?

MORRISSEY: Sure, absolutely. Well as I mentioned, the U.S. has been a global leader on disability issues, and we have a real opportunity to continue to share our knowledge with other countries and to form a friendship with other countries in recognizing the rights of persons with disabilities. And to send our message to countries around the world that the equal rights of our citizens with disabilities we take very seriously, particularly when we think about citizens with disabilities who are traveling abroad, working abroad, touring abroad, that their rights, their equal rights in society is something that the United States takes seriously. I believe that ratification of the CRPD is going to improve access for Americans with disabilities who will live, work, and travel abroad, including those families who have children with disabilities that want to live, work, or travel abroad. So often that experience has been closed to families of children with disabilities because of an inaccessible world. The CRPD is really changing that and the United States can affirm that change and serve as a resource to help other countries in developing things like accessible infrastructures, accessible public transportation systems, or that legal framework that protects the equal rights of citizens with disabilities so that the experience that families of children with disabilities here in the United States have had, they can have that same experience when they travel around the world, not experience discrimination, not experience marginalization, or a lack of access, but rather really be embraced in those countries. I think ratification is critical to maintaining our leadership role and to eliminating disability discrimination around the world. Our ratification will encourage others to ratify and implement the treaty. We have oh so many friends around the world in the international community who say if the U.S. affirms this, this will mean so much to my government to really take it seriously. If the U.S. doesn’t take this seriously, where’s the incentive for my government to take my rights or my child’s rights seriously? So the influence of the U.S. is so profound around the world.

MELISSA: Right, it is. If the United States launches initiatives, the rest of the world is sure to follow, at least a high percentage of it. Hi, Mr. Morrissey, this is Melissa. I was wondering if you could highlight a little bit of the collaboration with the Millennium Development Goals, and this Convention, is there some, speaking of collaborative international work, how do the two tie in together?

MORRISSEY: Yeah, that’s a great question, Melissa. You know, at its core, the Millennium Development Goals are about poverty eradication, and ending so many of the negative effects of poverty such as malnutrition, lack of education, lack of opportunity, and we see those same goals in the CRPD written in a way to address how people with disabilities obtain them so when we talk about a right to be in the workplace, to be treated fairly in the workplace, that’s directly related to poverty eradication, to an individual being able to support their family whether they have a disability or not is a part of the vision of the MDGs. Part of the vision of the CRPD is to make sure that those workers with disabilities have an equal shot when they’re applying for a job or an equal shot when they’re performing the job.

MELISSA: Do you see the Development Goals for people without disabilities, a little easier, are you encountering a few more obstacles in addressing the needs of people with disabilities?

MORRISSEY: Yeah, I think that the needs are very diverse, country by country, and the effort for things like global health or global poverty eradication, you certainly have some countries where there’s gonna be a stronger emphasis because the disparities are higher and the need is more profound, and I think that likewise, we have a really interesting experience around disability rights that every country is at their own place in a journey toward realizing equal rights for persons with disabilities. And so sometimes those situations overlap, and yet we also know that in developed countries or more affluent societies, they’re still, like the United States, working toward a vision of full access, full inclusion, and full equality for people with disabilities. I think that’s why the CRPD is so exciting, particularly for parents who have children with disabilities that want to see their child have a future life that’s not only one of equality in society but one where they thrive, and the CRPD recognizes the important role of the family and specifically highlights the role of parents and raising children so that that child can be all that they can be. The treaty requires that, for example it says in no case shall a child be separated from his or her parents on the basis of a disability.

MARY: Yeah.


MARY: So Dave, break it down.

MORRISSEY: Natural nurturing environment for the child is really the best environment.

MARY: Using that as an example and I love that, what you’re just reading off, so how would that work in a developing country that has ratified the CRPD, this Convention? Can you just give a hypothetical?

MORRISSEY: Sure. Well, you know here in the United States, for oh, a long time, we’ve been working toward what I just described, that children with disabilities can stay with their family and that society supports the family as the central unit. So, in so many countries where resources are thin, where stigma is high around disability, maybe even higher around stigma for children born with disabilities, the CRPD can send a message that again, these children are equal members in our society, and it’s up to society’s policies to make sure that they’re not removed from the home or denied an education solely because they have a disability but rather supported to stay in the home which is the right environment for them.

MARY: David, a number of countries, developing countries that have already ratified this treaty from what I understand, can you point to any successes so far that countries are exhibiting as a result of this perhaps newfound commitment to disability rights?

MORRISSEY: I think we’re seeing a really interesting trend in some of the former Soviet Union countries as well as in Latin America where countries who had a situation where children with disabilities were routinely being removed from the home, put into institutions or orphanages, which is not a healthy environment for a child, a congregate setting like that does not nurture an individual’s talents, doesn’t nurture their ability to have an education, and certainly can be detrimental to their physical health, and so we’re seeing in those countries now because of the CRPD and the efforts of international advocates to come together and again share best practices to the idea that okay, we’re not going to just be taking kids with disabilities out of the home for no other reason than the fact that they have a disability, we’re gonna encourage their parents to keep the child at home and we’re going to as a society support that. And so it’s creating an exciting shift that hopefully in the long term, we will see less people living in those sorts of institutional settings and rather, living in the community which by the way, I’m sure you both know, the Olmstead decision from the U.S. Supreme Court says the same thing, that people with disabilities have a right to live in the community and direct how they live, just as every other citizen does.

MARY: Yes, I agree with that. Of course, I have to ask a little bit of the, gee, I’m thinking too much here, but what’s the infrastructure like if the child is going to be kept with his family and community and where’s the budget for providing such an infrastructure for that community to support that inclusive environment? That’s the tricky part, ‘cause we can talk about it, we can sign a treaty but then there’s no infrastructure.

MORRISSEY: That’s true in that as societies set a guide star for themselves or put into law what their values are, budgets follow, and so the idea that a child with a disability in another example would have an access to an education that could accommodate possibly if they have special learning needs, that can accommodate those to still give them that fair and equal education, that’s something that those societies are going to evolve toward as they work on budgets, work on their own unique systems in their countries.

MELISSA: But is, is it like an international money collaboration? How, is it each country working individually, is the UN going to set up a separate budget to fund this or any details on that?

MORRISSEY: So those are great questions. I think that those countries that are aid recipients, so for example countries who are using the dollars of donor nations to conduct programs such as immunization programs or primary education programs or literacy programs, they are already working with donor nations to provide those systems. The CRPD can be another tool because it’s a vision for that society that supports those services to be in place for disability equality. Other countries who are not donor recipients are also embracing this treaty and many of them are already in compliance with the treaty, and have in place legal systems and social service systems that fully reflect the vision of the CRPD. It doesn’t mean that their society is perfect and that the vision has been fully achieved, but they really have a nice sort of progress already behind them in making it real. I think that’s the case for the U.S. We know that certainly we do still have goals to meet around the employment rate for people with disabilities, the graduation rate for students with disabilities, and signing and ratifying the CRPD is not gonna change that overnight. It continues to be the work of advocates and policymakers to come together and continue to move our society forward.

MELISSA: Yeah, is this open to like the Bill Gates Foundation and other independent,

MELISSA: Well, we certainly love seeing those private sector donors work more on disability issues, it really does require a collaborative effort, that’s not just on the government’s side. Those private sector donors, those foundations can make such a profound impact as they have in so many important areas. I’d love to see more foundations embracing a disability rights approach. As you know, many foundations, particularly when they’re working in low-resource communities, focus on some of the most bare bones needs and that’s very important, that those be addressed too. Things like infant nutrition, but we also have to support that vision for the equality of people with disabilities. Go ahead.

MELISSA: I see here that there’s going to be an International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3rd of this year.


MELISSA: Is that the first time that’s happened, is this an annual event?

MORRISSEY: That’s a great question, thank you, I love it, it’s one of my favorite days of the year.

MELISSA: Well I’ve never heard of it before!

MORRISSEY: Well, then we wanna get you all involved and your listeners to get fired up about it. It’s a day of global solidarity for the disability community and I say the disability community in its biggest sense. That’s people with disabilities, parents of kids with disabilities, advocates for people with disabilities, coming together and affirming that we have a vision for the equality of people with disabilities in society. Here in Washington, our organization, the U.S. International Council on Disabilities regularly on December 3rd hosts some sort of an educational event to raise awareness about the international day. It really can be a day of just international friendship and solidarity around this really important issue. Every year, the United Nations announces a theme for the international day and I believe this year’s is similar to some of past years where it really is about development and making sure that those programs around poverty eradication that we’ve been already talking about today are inclusive of people with disabilities so that people with disabilities are not being left behind, some really important development initiatives.

MARY: Well, you know, it would really be great if we could have people in our country recognize some of the good that comes out of the United Nations. I guess I’m on my soapbox a little bit, but the late Allen Wright taught me that around the world, the UN actually does matter and sadly, in our country we just don’t give it the due, the recognition that it is due, and perhaps this is something that we as parents might be able to at least recognize on this point of disability and recognizing the progress made on disability issues and where we need to go and the positive nature of this treaty. So David, I wanted to ask you about, you mentioned where you work, the U.S. International Council on Disabilities, what is that, and what’s your role with this treaty?

MORRISSEY: Sure. So we sometimes call ourselves USICD for short, or U-S-I-C-D, and I certainly would love for folks to visit our website at We serve as a convener, an umbrella organization to bring together the American disability community to engage on international issues, and so we have solely as our focus those international affairs areas. And yet, in our membership we have so many of the groups that many of your listeners already know, such as the National Council on Independent Living, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and others who have a real focus on the American disability policy area and focusing on domestic issues. Hopefully we can provide a conduit for them to engage on international areas. So I mentioned earlier, knowledge sharing and international friendship, that’s one thing we try to do is help connect the American disability community with our brothers and sisters in countries around the world. And so when the treaty was adopted by the UN, USICD really took on the effort to coordinate the community in a campaign to see our country become a signatory to the treaty, which we’re so pleased occurred in 2009 on the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was so meaningful to see President Obama that day order his Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, to sign the treaty, and then also we’re now working to, with the broad, diverse community, we’re serving the community to move forward the campaign for the U.S. to ratify the treaty. The treaty was sent to the Senate in May this year and we’re really hopeful that this is gonna be something that is going to achieve that supermajority vote that we need in the Senate because we have so many great Senators who have long been supporters of disability issues and this one is a natural. The U.S. again has been a global leader on disability rights and this is a great opportunity for us to continue to lead.

MARY: Sure, David, thank you and that’s a very good segue. You teed it up beautifully. I believe on the line now we hopefully have Governor Thornburgh and Congressman Coelho.

DICK THORNBURGH: Good afternoon, Dick Thornburgh here.

MARY: Good afternoon, hello governor, how are you?

THORNBURGH: Well, thank you.

MARY: Mr. Coelho, do we have you yet? No, we’ll be getting him on in just a moment. But welcome to the Mary and Melissa show. This, everyone, is Governor Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania, the great state of Pennsylvania, former Attorney General of these United States, we’re pleased to have you on the show. Thank you.

THORNBURGH: Thank you.

MARY: Governor, would you please tell us why you’re involved in this treaty?

THORNBURGH: Well, it’s a long story. First of all, I’m a parent of a 52-year-old son with serious intellectual and physical disabilities, he was injured in an auto accident when he was just an infant, and I have become an advocate for him and for others similarly situated over the years, and truly look upon the United Nations Convention as an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act. When I was Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush, it was my privilege to work with many others to secure passage of the ADA in 1990, and during my time at the UN, I worked on disability issues there as well. So this kind of brings together a lot of different strands of my life and I’m fully committed to seeing our Senate take positive action on the treaty and bringing it into being.

MARY: Well let’s talk about the Senate. Why should the Senate ratify it? I mean obviously you’re for it, but there are obviously lots of treaties that we’ve declined to be, put our names to, to ratify. Why should this one trump some of the others?

THORNBURGH: Well there may be some good reasons for resisting others, I’m not gonna opine on that, but there’s a very good reason for us to act swiftly and decisively in this area. The United States is currently the world leader in establishing and honoring disability rights and admitting people with disabilities into the mainstream of our society. These notions which are embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act have provided an inspiration and a model for countries around the world. I remember very well from the very time that the ADA was passed, we were frequently visited by officials from other countries who wanted to discuss the ADA and its particulars and how it could be applied in their countries. Now, the Convention offers a template that can be used around the world to embody those very same principles and for us to maintain our leadership role, I think it’s important that we very swiftly ratify this Convention and help with other countries to bring those principles into being elsewhere.

MARY: Well, thank you for that. Let’s talk about J.Q. Public, the general person with a disability in America. You talked about your role as a parent of an adult with a disability. How will this treaty help Americans with disabilities?

THORNBURGH: I don’t think there’s any question but with our nation having a leadership role in the disability rights movement endures to the benefit of all Americans and in particular to those of us who have a disability ourselves or in our families or among our friends. You know, there are at least 54 million Americans who have some kind of physical, sensory, intellectual, or emotional disability that qualifies them for status under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so we’re not talking about a small group of people here, and if we’re to forfeit our role as world leaders, it can’t help but have a backlash here in the United States, so I think that in order for us to maintain that leadership position and continue to reap the obvious benefits that have come from having the Americans with Disabilities Act on the books, it’s important that we act consistent with that leadership role and ratify this Convention.

MARY: So you’re talking about the leadership role that we have, that we have sort of a legacy as world leaders. The ADA which you are intimately, intimately involved in the passage of it, can you identify some linkages between the ADA and the Convention? I mean, is this the ADA part two?

THORNBURGH: In point of fact, most of the inspiration for the guarantees that are embodied into the convention derive from the Americans with Disabilities Act. American delegations and representatives were intimately involved in the drafting of the Convention, and clearly as I said, leaders around the world in the disability rights movement have always looked to the ADA since the time of its passage in 1990 as the beginning point for fashioning their own kinds of disability rights legislation. You know, one of the things that’s important to realize is that there are an estimated one billion people around the world who have disabilities as we define them under these laws and conventions. And 80% of those folks live in developing countries. And if we are to carry out an effective program of aid to developing countries, it simply has to include some framework within which disability rights can be guaranteed as well, and I think that’s something that in the final analysis is very important to us. You know, there are other benefits from our ratifying this. When our families or individuals travel abroad, they will be protected in due course by the kinds of legislation that provide benefits for them in this country, that is to say, the guarantees of the ADA, which don’t follow them once they’re outside the United States, will have their counterparts in countries that they visit who’ve ratified the convention, so there’s a very tangible benefit that we can look forward to. Finally,

MARY: That’s so significant and something that perhaps we don’t recognize because often there isn’t a consideration that people with disabilities will travel around the world, and why the heck not? I believe we have Congressman Coelho on the line. Is that indeed the truth?

TONY COELHO: That is true, I’m on the line, thank you very much.

MARY: That is fantastic. Well we are so pleased to have you. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Congressman Coelho, past Chairman of the American Association of People with Disabilities, fondly known as AAPD, and let me ask you if you don’t mind, Mr. Coelho, can you just tell us what are some of these political obstacles that may be faced in Senate ratification?

COELHO: And most important, I’m also a good friend of Dick Thornburgh.

THORNBURGH: Hello, Tony!

COELHO: Hi, Dick. I think the other thing that Dick was pointing out is that not only for families with individuals who have disabilities who travel to foreign countries, but take how many of these companies that have international offices. A lot of individuals, Americans, with families who have a disability or individuals who have a disability don’t take foreign assignments because the families who have disabilities can’t function in these foreign countries because of their disabilities or don’t feel welcome because of the lack of facilities and so forth. So that’s why it’s also important for them. Or take the military families. The lack of facilities or so forth, this would help these military families who also are assigned in foreign countries and the lack of facilities and so forth. So there’s all kinds of reasons for us to be encouraging these countries to upgrade their facilities and schooling and so forth to come to the standards that we in the United States have in regards to disabilities and lord knows, we’re not going to stop where we are right now. We’re going to keep increasing what we do in regards to those of us with disabilities, what we do here in the United States and we’re gonna keep upgrading and so we’re not going to stop where we are now, so we want to keep raising the bar and we want foreign countries to follow us as we keep raising the bar.

THORNBURGH: Tony, there’s another sleeper in there as well, as I’m sure you know. We have developed and are developing a lot of technological capability in our country to help people with disabilities become part of the mainstream and that means U.S. jobs and it means more business for our companies and if those same opportunities are opened abroad, you can see the increment that that’ll add to our economic recovery.

COELHO: Right, we have been the leader, as you know, we have been the leader in regards to disabilities worldwide. We’ve set the gold standard and people have followed us worldwide, and in regards to the treaty, we should be, continue to be the leader, continue to be setting the example and so forth.

MARY: Let me ask this, if you don’t mind terribly then is since we are the leader and have been the leader, from your opinions, what took us so long to sign the treaty and do you expect any holdup in ratification?

COELHO: Well I think part of the reason is, you know, we’re noted for being very political as a nation and we continue to be. We have people who question everything, that’s fine. We’ve had over the years as Dick knows, Dick and I are from two different political parties, but when it comes down to disabilities, there’s never been partisanship. We have always, as one of the original authors of the ADA, we always made sure that when it came to disabilities, that it was bipartisan, bicameral, bipartisan, we were always very, very conscious of that.

THORNBURGH: Absolutely true.

COELHO: And we were insistent upon it. I was the original author and I made sure that we had a Republican in the Senate, Lowell Weicker, was the original Republican Senator and we’ve operated on that vein from day one, and so we’ve always been very careful of that. In the Senate today, we have Republicans and Democrats as the main supporters of this treaty. Right now, we have a split in the Republicans in regards to the treaty, and we are optimistic, very optimistic that we’re gonna get it. We need 67 votes. We are a little over 60 at this point. We think we have the necessary votes, we feel very good about it. We just have to get people to be publicly supported. We have the verbal agreements and we just need to get it all set by the time they get into the lame duck session. We’re very optimistic about it and we’re working hard to get everybody verbally committed and so that the leader Harry Reid can go ahead and schedule it in the lame duck. But we’re working hard to get all those votes committed. We’d like to get it back up to our normal numbers. We have some verbal opposition for the first time on a disability issue, but that’s not gonna stop us at all. Dick has been working real hard and so have other Republicans work with the Democrats and we’re optimistic about that.

MELISSA: That’s wonderful. Hi, good afternoon, Governor Thornburgh and Congressman Coelho. This is Melissa, and I want to ask, what can someone like me, the average citizen new to the subject, what can I do to help get you those votes?

THORNBURGH: Well we live in a democracy and democracies call upon elected representatives to be responsible to the people, and as Tony Coelho knows having serve long and ably in our Congress, when you hear from your constituents, you ignore that clarion call at your peril, so that means that a lot of people have got to sit down, write email, Tweet, or whatever to their elected representatives. Let them know that this is a priority that deserves attention, and that’s particularly true of parents and family members of people with disabilities.

MELISSA: Now, with the upcoming elections, is there any, I get a little nervous about which way it might go. Would it matter which president took office?

COELHO: It’ll be a lame duck, it won’t make any difference. It’ll be the current members of Congress that are in the Senate who will be voting on this, the current president will be the one who’s involved in this, so it won’t make any difference at all, so that’s why they call it a lame duck, so it’s the current people in the Congress. So it’s really getting those members that are currently there to vote yes when the election is over with, before they adjourn around Christmas, whenever they conclude the session of Congress.

THORNBURGH: On the other hand, it was encouraging to me that in the debate last week, both of the candidates mentioned disability rights as a concern, and that hasn’t always been the case. So I’m hoping that that sends a signal that even if it has to carry over to a new session that leadership may be forthcoming from the White House no matter what the outcome of the presidential election is.

COELHO: Yeah I would imagine that whoever wins, they would support what happens in the lame duck.

THORNBURGH: Absolutely.

COELHO: So I’m not too worried about that, I just need to get those members that are there now to be supportive, to get this done in this session of Congress.

MARY: So what are some of the issues you’re facing with those who are not yet onboard with the Convention?

COELHO: Well there’s some false rumors saying that this would impact homeschooling and so forth, and it does not, and so Dick as former Attorney General is more legally astute on these things, and can speak to this much better than I can but it does not affect, this treaty does not affect American law and that


COELHO: American law supersedes the treaty, but there are people who were trying to say that the UN would interfere with American law and it does not. So it’s that type of stuff that we are trying to convince people of that these are falsehoods that we have to put down, and that families would make their decisions under American law and that nobody would interfere with that, and we just have to convince people that both the individuals that worked under President Bush, the father and President Bush, the son, President Clinton, and President Obama, all four presidents, individuals who worked in those White Houses and people who worked in those Justice Departments all concur that that is the case, and there’s no deviation from that and so it’s basically us trying to with all that expertise, convincing people that those are just rumors and falsehoods. I don’t know Dick if you want to expand on that.

THORNBURGH: No, it’s just odd that there’s always a kind of a curious, reflexive attitude about proposals that emanate in the UN and I think it’s important to know here that there are certain reservations, understandings, and declarations contained in the package that’s before the Senate now that make it very clear that there’s no impingement upon our United States laws, there’s no tax money that’s gonna be imposed as a result of the ratification of the Convention, and there’s no kind of action dictated on the part of our government or upon our citizens out of the act itself. As you said, Tony, as we’ll all agree, this is an important role for us to assume as leaders in an important human rights area, and I’m confident that sooner or later we’re going to get to that and I hope it’s sooner.

MARY: I hate to put this forward, but what happens if it gets less than the required votes? What if the U.S. does not ratify the treaty?

THORNBURGH: Back to the drawing board and it can be resubmitted.

COELHO: Yeah, the treaty goes forward, it just means the United States is not a signatory to it and that’s a sad day because we have been the leader in the disability rights movement and we just don’t provide the leadership. There’s some countries who would then feel that there’s, with us not providing the moral leadership, that we have provided, that if we don’t ratify it, then that must mean that there’s something wrong with it that they then don’t have to impose the law in their countries and that people with disabilities in several foreign countries would not benefit from the leadership we’ve provided there’ll be a lot of people in a lot of countries, their lives will not be improved, unfortunately, and that leadership that we provided then won’t have the impact that it should have in a lot of countries and the statistics are very clear. Women and children in particular in so many different countries suffer as a result of these laws not being, not being changed, and their lives not being improved and we can have an impact by the example that we have shown in our own country, just that impact has been so tremendous and we can provide the aspirational benefits that can come from us participating and being involved in this treaty.

THORNBURGH: I think we’re both confident.

MARY: I wanna thank you Governor Thornburgh and Congressman Coelho, but before we let you go, I just wanna make sure, David Morrissey, if folks want to find out more and get that list of members of the Senate who might not be yet onboard, where do they get that?

MORRISSEY: Sure, absolutely, thank you. Please visit our website at There’s a whole CRPD ratification page that’s full of great resources for you as an advocate that can be helpful as you call your Senator to ask them to support ratification. There’s some really wonderful, inspiring letters from supporters from around the country who are for ratification, everyone from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to 21 veteran organizations. The coalition supporting ratification really is a diverse community and I really welcome your listeners to join it and I’m always available to them at our website at, there’s our phone number and our email links and please let me know how I can support your effort.

COELHO: One last comment, this lame duck will start probably the first of December, will end sometime in the week around the 20th of December so it’s really important that you get involved now. It’s critical.

MARY: Absolutely, and hitting on the International Day of Disability, we can do no less.

COELHO: Thank you.

MELISSA: Yeah, thank you.

MARY: Well thank you both, Mr. Coelho, Governor Thornburgh, we are so fortunate to have the two of you in the movement. It’s terrific that you both come from either side of the aisle so we have both represented and covering lots of bases here so thank you for coming on the show and explaining your role and the need for U.S. participation.

COELHO: Thank you very much.

THORNBURGH: Thanks for giving us the opportunity.

MARY: Thank you, so David, I wanted to cut back to you. Are you in a position to name names of who hasn’t yet come onboard or who has come onboard as big proponents of the treaty in the Senate?

MORRISSEY: Well, I wanna say that we really as a community can send a big thank you to a number of Senators on both sides of the aisle. In the Republican Party, John McCain has been joined by Senator Barrasso of Wyoming, Senator Moran of Kansas, Senator Blunt of Missouri, and so for their constituents to send those Senators a thank you for supporting this, let them know how much this means to you, is really important. I wanna keep this as a 50-state, 100-senator strategy because we think that every Senator can support this as you just heard Congressman Coelho and Governor Thornburgh explain the impact on U.S. law is not there. The U.S. has the opportunity rather to be a global leader by affirming this treaty and ratifying it, so the benefits are many, the costs are none, and yet we have this really exciting opportunity in front of us, so I need everyone to weigh into their Senator, encouraging them to vote. On the Democratic side we’re so excited to see Senator Durbin of Illinois, joined by Senator Kuhns of Delaware, Senator Udall of New Mexico, and Senator Harkin of Iowa, all as early supporters of this treaty and so for their constituents to send that thank you would be really important but don’t ignore the other Senator. You all have two Senators and so if you just heard me list ones that you should thank, think there’s another companion Senator to them that you can reach out to and encourage to vote yes. Again, on our website at, there’s all sorts of resources to help you in that outreach and we always wanna be available to help you do it.

MARY: Well that’s terrific. And the other thing I wanted to ask you David is if you can share with our listeners what is the approach that the disability community is gonna be taking over the next few months leading up to the lame duck? Are there going to be any other meetings or opportunities for involvement in addition to making phone calls and thanking or encouraging support?

MORRISSEY: On our website, in addition to accessing those resources, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll keep folks apprised of different efforts like you’ve mentioned, national days of calling. Last week we had a national day of Tweeting and our estimates are that almost 1,000 tweets were either originated or retweeted in support of CRPD. There’s guidance on our website about how to do that social media piece, you can follow our Twitter feed as well and contribute to the movement in that way. Additionally, if you’re involved with your center for independent living or you’re in a self-advocacy club or a parent advocate group, you may have a national affiliation that you work with such as the Council for Exceptional Children. They’ve been really a wonderful leader in this ratification campaign, so if you haven’t seen the materials that your national affiliation has sent out supporting ratification, reach out to them and ask how they’re supporting their grassroots to do this action. USICD’s a small nonprofit organization and so the heavy lifting has really come from the community. It’s taking everyone to pitch in together through their organizations to empower individuals to make that call, send that email, send that tweet, and so look to those national networks to support you and your local community, too.

MARY: Well you do a lot of heavy lifting, I know that David, and we are all thankful to you for your leadership and commitment to bringing this before us and reminding us of what we should be doing to make sure that we’re not just making sure we got ours but making sure the rest of the world also gets theirs, too.


MARY: So David, thank you so much for taking time to discuss this really important issue and keeping us honest and keep pounding the pavement and telling us what we should be doing to make sure that this actually becomes reality.

MORRISSEY: Thank you so much to you both for hosting a discussion of this topic. I’m always available to you on this topic or on other issues related to the global disability community which I’m so excited and honored to be a part of.

MELISSA: Excellent, thank you so much.

MARY: Thanks.

MORRISSEY: Thank you both.

MARY: Okay, so what are you gonna do Melissa? How are you?

MELISSA: I’m gonna tweet.

MARY: You’re gonna tweet? Excellent. Well we don’t have a Senator here in DC but I know a lot of people who don’t live in DC who have Senators and I think I’m gonna beat on them to make sure that their Senators are onboard for this.

MELISSA: Yeah, this definitely has to be a DC representation of some sort.

MARY: I think we should at least be onboard with this so we should maybe see what our city council says.

MELISSA: Yeah, that’d be good. Pass it by Mary Cheh.

MARY: She’s our representative. That’s a thought, that’s a thought. I’m just so thrilled that we had some of the top, top leaders in our community talking with us today. I’m just humbled, humbled and thrilled by the opportunity to talk to Governor Thornburgh, Congressman Coelho, people who have actually made the ADA happen who have actually brought real change for all of us here in America and who are still at it, toiling to make sure that the privileges and opportunities that we have here can be enjoyed around the world, and we’re very fortunate and that David is toiling away each day. We love you David, thank you for doing that.

MELISSA: Yeah, I really like the way the message of let’s not take things for granted keeps coming back to us. You know, here in the U.S., we tend to complain a lot that things aren’t good enough or things aren’t just working as well as they could but actually in retrospect, we are the leaders and it’s nice to know that we’re in the process of taking a leadership role to another level in the global community of disability and that’s an important step to make, so I’m very happy to have had our guests today and for you and I Mary to be talking about these issues and helping along the process and the growth of the disability community.

MARY: Absolutely, we’re gonna stay on top of this, track how this vote unfolds hopefully and so anyway, we invite you to keep talking to us, all of our listeners and you should tweet and you should call and get involved and get involved with USICD and let’s make this treaty a reality.


MARY: Alright, thank you again for listening to the Mary and Melissa show, thank you, take care everyone.