Video Message: The Disabilities Treaty--It's Time For Action

Press Statement
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
August 9, 2013

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

Hi, everyone. I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about a treaty that will advance the rights of Americans with disabilities when they leave our shores and travel overseas. It's called the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and its purpose lies squarely in the best traditions of our great country.

The Disabilities Treaty is an international agreement that will help protect the rights of Americans with disabilities when they live, work, travel, or study overseas--it is exactly like the Americans with Disabilities Act and what it does here at home.

In both cases, the measures are about ensuring equality and dignity. But the Disabilities Treaty is about something more. It's about American leadership. It's about the affirmation of who we are as a nation and what we stand for in the eyes of the world.

If you're a disabled student with dreams of going to school overseas, our joining the Disabilities Treaty will help open the world to meet your aspirations for equality of opportunity and accessibility when you go overseas.

If you're a business person with expertise in accessible technologies, our joining this Treaty will help create new markets for your products as other countries rise to meet our standards and demand our products in order to help their citizens.

And if you're a disabled veteran who risked life and limb in service to our country, our joining this Treaty will help ensure that you can work, you can study, you can travel abroad with dignity and respect and know that hotels, restaurants, and businesses will be accessible to you.

Don't take my word for it. Talk to Dan Berschinski, a retired U.S. Army captain, Afghanistan War veteran and a double amputee. I met Dan last year and he told me that when he travels overseas, he has worries that he'd never have here in the United States: Would his wheelchair fit through a hotel doorway? Would bathrooms be accessible? Would buildings have ramps?

The fact is that, in too many countries, what we have come to be able to take for granted here in America hasn't been granted at all in those other countries. This Treaty doesn't change America. It doesn't affect America except that we export America's values of non-discrimination against all people living with disabilities.

Now, I know that there's a certain amount of misinformation out there about this Treaty. So let me just set the record straight right now.

The Disabilities Treaty does not contain one single onerous mandate. There are no mandates. It simply says that other countries should do what we did 23 years ago when we set the gold standard and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Joining the Treaty won't require one change to an American law, and it won't infringe on the rights of parents to decide what's best for their children. I want to be absolutely clear about that.

Joining the Disabilities Treaty isn't about changing American behavior. It's about getting the rest of the world to raise their disability standards for the treatment of people with disabilities--and raise them to our level. It's that simple.

In four simple words, the Treaty says to other countries that don't protect the rights of disabled people: Be more like us. To countries that warehouse children with disabilities--we ask them to be more like us. To countries that leave children to die because they have a disability in the first place--we ask them to be more like us. Let those children live. To countries that force children with disabilities to abandon education--we ask them to be more like us. Give those children an opportunity.

I am proud to join with people all over the country to advance this cause. We are in this together because we believe in the promise of equality for Americans anywhere, and for people everywhere. It's time for action on the Disabilities Treaty.