The United States on Thursday signed a U.N. treaty enshrining the rights of the world's 650 million disabled people, saying it symbolized President Obama's commitment to upholding human rights through international agreements.
The signing by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice marked a dramatic shift from the Bush administration, which refused to take part in negotiations on the treaty, arguing that it would dilute protections for U.S. citizens under the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act.
Obama last week marked the 19th anniversary of the U.S. law barring discrimination against the disabled with the announcement that Washington would become a signatory to the convention.
"Disability rights aren't just civil rights to be enforced here at home. They are universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world," the president said.
Rice said Obama would soon submit the treaty to the Senate for ratification. Once the pact is ratified, the United States would be bound by its provisions.
The treaty is the first new human rights convention of the 21st century. It was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2006 and came into force in May 2008 after 20 countries had ratified it. The U.S. became the 142nd.
The 32-page convention is a blueprint aimed at ending discrimination against the physically and mentally impaired in education, jobs and everyday life. It requires countries to guarantee freedom from exploitation and abuse for the disabled, while protecting rights they already have, such as voting procedures for the blind and wheelchair accessibility to buildings.
It says disabled people must also enjoy the same rights to life, inheritance, control over financial affairs, and privacy as the able-bodied. It also advocates keeping the disabled in their communities rather than removing them and educating them separately, as many countries do.
According to the U.N., about 10% of the world's population, or 650 million people, live with a disability, and the number is increasing with population growth.