The Jewish tradition is fairly unequivocal on the rights of people with disabilities — that is, if we take seriously the notion of tselem elokim, that we are all created in the image of God. In recent years Jewish institutions have made heroic efforts to facilitate the full participation of everyone in Jewish life.
Beyond their own communities, Jewish institutions are also committed to the universal application of disabilities rights. That’s why the Jewish Federations of North America is urging the swift passage by the Senate of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international agreement based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CRPD commits signatories — 130 nations so far — to passing and strengthening laws to promote the rights of people with disabilities.
Although nearly two-thirds of the U.S. Senate voted to ratify the treaty last winter, it failed to pass by a mere five votes. Opponents have raised a number of red flags that seem more like red herrings: They fear the loss of sovereignty, or worry that the treaty would force the United States to change laws covering parental rights or homeschooling. In fact, the treaty would do none of these things, leading William Daroff, vice president for public policy at JFNA, to suggest that opposition appears “to be rooted more in politics” than policy. “The disability treaty has broad bipartisan support in the Senate, is endorsed by more than 500 disability organizations and 22 veterans’ groups, and not just the usual progressive suspects,” writes Daroff. “It also enjoys the backing of two Republican leaders I had the opportunity to work for, President George H.W. Bush (R) and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.).”
The Senate has an opportunity to join these leaders and to assert that all people should have the opportunity to achieve economic self-sufficiency, enjoy equality of opportunity, and participate fully in society.
“The Jewish tradition stresses the equality of all people before our Creator,” writes Daroff. The CRPD turns that particular wisdom into a universal goal.