When I Heard I'd Be Unrecognized

On the day Congress was casting votes towards the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), my twitter feed was buzzing with the #CRPD hashtag. I'd left a few tabs opened in my browser, each one opened to a virtual news source I hoped would bring the good and obvious news. Every hour I refreshed the pages, scanned my twitter feed, and then the 140 characters came in: the Senate had failed to get the majority vote to pass #CRPD.
Shocked I rushed to my facebook news feed and my friends in the disability community shared my same disbelief and disappointment. What happened? How could this be?! Why wouldn't it be passed? Who could be against this? These questions remained in my mind, fervent and feverish even as I read multiple news sources and heard the explanations. Still, I remained in disbelief. None of the pieces fitted the puzzle that I had come to know as the political process, America, democracy, respect, inclusion, human rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- they all just lay scattered about in my mind waiting for someone to create a space for them to fit into. And that's what annoyed me the most: up until that point those pieces just fit together without much brainwork on my part. I'd become used to them all working together (albeit with kinks in the machinery), and the minute the news came in that they no longer connected I looked at everyone blankly and wondered what now?

After reading the political editorials from critics of the CRPD and their reasonings, I decided that I'd have to read the entire CRPD for myself. So I did.
Here is briefly what I found -- From Articles 3 to 30 I recognized immediately some aspect of my own life represented. Whether it was in Article 6 as a woman with a disability, or Article 8 as a young person trying to raise awareness around disability issues, Article 16 that ensures I will be protected from abuse or exploitation, Article 17 that ensures my integrity is recognized in equality with my peers, Article 19 that protects my rights to a life of independence in my community, Article 20 that grants the rights and access to every mobility device I have ever had to use since birth, Article 24 that promotes my potential as a human being through education, Article 27 that recognizes my right to employment, and Article 30 that gives me the right to enjoy the culture that I am surrounded by - not the least of which is the culture of disability... each article I read detailed something about my life I didn't even think needed the protection that official rights would grant - until it occurred to me that as a member of the international community, the U.S. wouldn't recognize these rights.

Sure, under the protection of the ADA and other landmark civil rights acts - I am still able to live my life without much restraint. But the thing is, rights are not granted so only one person is able to exercise her freedom and liberties. And that's when I thought about all of the children who come to our borders for better medical care, the immigrant families that give up their belongings and lives to pay for it, the students who want access to better education, the veterans transitioning back to civillian life, the individuals who look to America as a place of inclusion and possibility -- and I realize how embarrassing it is, for me, to be a part of a country that doesn't recognize their rights as individuals with a disability. I thought also about the people in the U.S. - students who want to experience a semester abroad in college, the veterans who want to return to work on a base across the pond, the veteran with the disabled child trying to connect all of the medical care on a far away military base, employees of multinational organizations, the individuals who wish to return to their families they've been sending money back to, the family that wants to take a vacation back to the country of their ancestors -- and I imagine how frightening it must be for them to be at risk for exploitation, to have their securities and liberties denied, their right to employment revoked, their humanity willfully discriminated against, access to legal assistance refused..and on and on.

I think it would be irresponsible for me to not ask the questions: how is my life different from any of theirs? Why is my individuality any more deserving of legal protection than theirs? They are also protecting their families, trying to make a living, seeking independence, giving back to their communities, and providing for their futures. So when I heard I'd be unrecognized I didn't spend time thinking on how my own life would change, but instead on theirs. Because the fact is: there are millions of them all around the world and there is one of me. Who is looking out for them? Who has secured their dignity and respect? Who has recognized their worth as a human being? What does it say about the U.S. and its ability to practice 'inclusion' for its own citizens?

The first value of a community is that of belonging. Rights are, in a way, seen as 'legalizing' that community - to say that this is a group of people valuable enough to have the security of protection, equality, and freedom. So when I heard that the U.S. Congress failed to pass enough votes to ratify the CRPD, I didn't just see myself unrecognized in the international community, but a silencing blow to the community as a whole. I heard it in the un-answered questions that still linger in my ears, and I am wondering how long we'll have to wait this time.

But as we wait for the CRPD to face the democracy of our political maze once more our community need not sit back and twiddle our thumbs. The CRPD was struck down once but our community still remains a strong presence globally. We are still here living our lives regardless. As such, when the CRPD is brought back to Congress for another vote this time -- well, this time I can say with greater certainty that there will not be another silence that is heard around the world: Click on that link to find out how you can tell your Senator equality is too valuable to leave unrecognized, and apparently not valued enough by those we elected to represent us.

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