Ratify the Disability Treaty

I wrote this opinion piece for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities after being inspired at the Marine Corps Marathon weekend. On October 27th I had the unique experience of participating in Marine Corps weekend, joining thousands of people running the various Marine Corps Marathon events. I was struck by a strong sense of pride and feeling of patriotism that can feel foreign in today's climate.

This was truly "America's Marathon". While my friends and I waited to begin the 10K, we heard an announcement that our start would be held for five minutes to allow space for the wheelchair participants in the marathon. The thought of doing a marathon is a daunting one for most people, but doing it in a wheelchair would seem to be a truly superhuman feat. Yet it is done -- by men and women who served their country fighting an enemy we still struggle to understand.

This is not the first inspiring moment I would have in my relatively brief appearance in this event. As I made my way through my 6.2 mile journey, I met a Marine running with one prosthetic arm and leg who survived an IED attack in Afghanistan. I heard him tell another man it was his way of getting a final victory over those "freedom haters" by letting them know that he, and by extension the collective "we", would carry on. He represented the best of what our country has to offer; our special brand of optimism-fueled determination and unapologetic pride. He had that American "can-do" attitude. It was a story that would have left me breathless regardless of running the race.

He wasn't my only inspiration. The men I will think about during every race I run from now on are the "Groundpounders", a group of gentlemen in their 60s and 70s who have never missed a single Marine Corps Marathon. I met one of them, a second generation Marine, during a long training run. His advice to me about the hilly terrain during my first MCM weekend: "You take that hill, don't let it take you!"

The thing about this race is that it's not only a salute to our service members and a formidable test of endurance. It's that anyone can participate regardless of ability. I was both proud and sad to realize such a race can happen in America. As I prepped for the 10K in my leisure time, I was working on a race of a different kind in my professional life. I am working on a late year push for ratification of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A number of armed services and veterans' groups have joined forces with disabled persons' rights groups to make this treaty a reality. Their reason is so that a Marine or any other American can participate in any race in the world with the same ease and pride as we felt that weekend.

The treaty is about opening opportunities to study abroad and have the same access as at home. What the drafters of this treaty understood, as I suspect my "Groundpounder" friends have always known, is that people with disabilities are not objects of pity but valuable and inspirational members of our society. The treaty respects the views and rights of these individuals, knowing that we are all made better through their contributions.

Despite these benefits, it suffered an inglorious defeat last Congress. The awful image of former Senator and Majority Leader Bob Dole, a decorated veteran, watching the vote from a wheelchair on the Senate floor is one that lingers. Its opponents have put up Constitutional arguments, arguments meant to exploit the concerns of parents who home-school children with disabilities and even abortion-related arguments. All of these have counters that are being addressed by my former colleagues in the Senate or other groups. The arguments that disturb me most are ones that function as asymmetrical warfare against the United Nations and the concept of global cooperation; as though this way of living is somehow "un-American".

There is rhetoric about this treaty not benefitting Americans, when in reality it is about raising global standards that create opportunities for Americans and others who travel or live overseas. Yet the most significant way in which this treaty benefits Americans is that it reminds us that true American leadership is infused with generosity, kindness and a sense of responsibility to set an example for the world. How did we lose our belief in these fundamental aspects amongst arguments over budgets, entitlements and ill-formed arguments about sovereignty? Since when did a treaty meant to promote an individual's right to live purposefully and freely threaten anyone's rights?

As an aside, the Treaty for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was negotiated during the Bush Administration under the stewardship of John Bolton. The concerns about such issues were addressed straight away. The United States offered technical assistance and insight to make its final draft a reality. It was signed at the beginning of the Obama Administration.

Bipartisan and multilateral cooperation brought us to this point. Despite naysayers, the treaty still has bipartisan support. By the time this opinion is read, Senators Kelly Ayotte and Mark Kirk will have testified before their peers about its benefits and the need for leadership on this issue. 

Congresswoman and decorated veteran Tammy Duckworth will have done the same.

In doing so, they will take the same stand as the heroes I met. It will be the same stand as all the groups working to see the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratified are taking.

American leadership is about inspiration, generosity and that optimism-fueled determination that is uniquely ours. I hope our elected officials remember this when the time comes to vote. As for me, I plan to tie my laces tight and prepare for the next hill.

-Monica Sanders

About the author: Monica Sanders is former writer and producer for CNN who recently served as Senior Counsel in the House and Senate. Her opinions are her own.

Tags: advocacy