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The ADA Legacy Project

Moments in Disability History 24

ADA's International Impact

On December 3, 2014, the United Nations will be celebrating the 17th annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Significant in the history of the United Nations with regard to people with disabilities is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was the first major piece of national legislation in the world to address systematically the discrimination, barriers, and challenges faced by people with disabilities. Other countries followed suit by adopting similar ADA principles.

Between 1991 and 1999, the ADA inspired disability rights laws in Luxembourg, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and Sweden. A short video on this international impact is part of a web site on "The Emancipation Proclamation for the Disabled" created as a National History Day (NHD) Project by students Srija Reddy, Niti Malwade, Hamsini Nathan, Devika Patel and Khira Patel:

The NHD is a highly regarded academic program for elementary and secondary school students. The web site won Second Place, Junior Group Website, in the Kenneth E. Behring National History Day Contest. The web site is an excellent summary of the pre-, peri- and post-ADA movement.

Rodrigo Jimenez Sandoval, a Costa Rican lawyer and consultant specializing in the rights of people with disabilities and women, described the ADA's influence on Latin American countries in comments made at the University of Alabama School of Law (Alabama Law Review, Vol. 52:1:419-423, 2000). The first Latin American disability legislation that was approved was a 1992 Brazilian law. The Chilean "Social Integration of Disabled Persons Law" followed in 1994 and, in May 1996, the Costa Rican "Law on Equal Opportunities for Disabled Persons" was approved. Similar laws followed in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.

Professor Sandoval's full report is available at: ADA Re Latin America Jimenez.pdf

In the years after enactment of the ADA in the United States and similar laws internationally, people with disabilities and governments around the world began meeting and discussing an international treaty that would require other countries to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Rodrigo Jimenez Sandoval

In 2006, these discussions culminated in the Disability Treaty (known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)), which is based on the principles of non-discrimination and inclusiveness that underlie the ADA. The convention was also inspired in part by the ADA, and the US provided important technical assistance during the convention's negotiation and drafting process.

The United Nation's International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities entered into force in 2008 and the United States signed the convention's principles in 2009. When the Disability Treaty was opened for signature in 2007, it was signed by 82 countries and ratified by one. Currently, 151 countries have ratified the convention... but not the United States.

More information about the Disabilities Treaty movement can be reviewed at

The United States missed an opportunity to further display global leadership on disability rights on December 4, 2012, when the Senate failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Opposition claimed erosion of US sovereignty and reluctance to take up a treaty during a lame duck Congress. The Senate vote took place during the post-election ("lame duck") session of Congress and included debate and votes by senators who were not returning to the next Congress in January 2013.

On July 23, 2014, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole returned to the U.S. Capitol to urge ratification of a global Disability Rights Treaty as reported in this CNN story:

Former Senate Majority Leader
Bob Dole
Former Senate Majority Leader
Bob Dole
Former President George H.W. Bush
Former President
George H.W. Bush
Former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray
Former White House Counsel
C. Boyden Gray
Former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho
Former U.S. Congressman
Tony Coelho

Other former supporters of the ADA who have expressed support for U.S. accession to the Disability Treaty include former President George H.W. Bush; C. Boyden Gray, former White House Counsel to President George H.W. Bush; and former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho.

In addition, ADA activist and life-long disabilities and civil rights advocate Judith E. Heumann was appointed Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the US Department of State. More information about her role in coordinating the interagency process for ratification of the Disability Treaty can be reviewed at

The role of the United Nations with regard to people with disabilities is discussed at

ADA Activist
Judith E. Heumann

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