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On July 30, 2009, the United States signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), reversing the Bush Administration's general disengagement with the convention. America historically has considered itself the global leader in disability civil rights law and policy, and largely deserves this reputation. Signature by the United States signals an intention to ratify the treaty, and President Barack Obama's Administration is submitting its convention ratification package to the U.S. Senate in short order. Notably, the CRPD (2007) is the first human rights treaty to be signed by the United States since the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) in 1995.
The worldwide momentum in favor of CRPD ratification poses both a challenge and an opportunity for the United States as a recognized disability rights leader. Ratification would signal an American return to active participation in the UN human rights system, supporting other efforts made by the Obama Administration in that direction, such as joining the UN Human Rights Council. It also would help reinstate the global leadership of the United States in disability law and policy after its relative disengagement from the globally supported CRPD treaty negotiations by the Bush Administration. Yet the prospects for such reinstatement must be set against the political landscape of American nonparticipation in human rights treaties and the challenges of a ratification effort for an American disability community rooted in a tradition of domestic civil rights advocacy and largely disconnected from the global human rights movement.