AAAS Board Urges U.S. Ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities

A new statement by the AAAS Board of Directors "strongly urges" the United States to become a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Convention, which is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, is the first international treaty to articulate the obligations of governments to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of persons with disabilities.

In its 7 April statement, the AAAS Board cites "AAAS's long-standing commitment to increase access to and participation in science and technology by persons with disabilities" as the basis for its position and also affirms "that research and development benefit from intellectual and experiential diversity."

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention in 2006. President Obama signed it in 2009, but in 2012 the U.S. Senate failed to give its required consent to ratifying the treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee took the Convention up again in 2013, and supporters are expected to bring it forward for a full vote in summer 2014.

"The United States has a lot of experience and expertise in this area," said Jessica Wyndham, associate director of the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program at AAAS. "By ratifying the Convention, the U.S. would not only clearly demonstrate its commitment to protecting the rights of people with disabilities but would have the opportunity to participate in the discussions going on at the international level about how to best promote and protect those rights in practice."

As the AAAS Board statement explains, the Convention explicitly recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities to enjoy equal access to medical facilities, education, workplaces and communications technologies. Furthermore, it calls on nations to support research and development on adaptive goods and services, as well as new assistive technologies; encourages international cooperation in research, facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge, and standards for sharing medical and technological advances; and reiterates the prohibition against medical or scientific experimentation on any person without their free consent.

The statement also notes that AAAS has long pursued programs aimed at promoting equal access to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education for students with disabilities and creating competitive opportunities for person with disabilities to pursue careers in these fields.

Since 1975, the AAAS Project on Science, Technology, and Disability has worked with and for engineers and scientists with disabilities. In 1976, AAAS held the first accessible meeting that had ever been organized by a professional scientific organization, in Boston. AAAS followed up by initiating seminars for engineering and science societies on how to include members with disabilities in their national and local meetings, providing technical assistance, and publishing a guidebook on barrier-free meetings.

Since its creation in 1996, the flagship program in support of people with disabilities Entry Point! has placed more than 500 highly qualified undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities in STEM internships. At least 90% of Entry Point! alums have continued their education, received graduate degrees and/or have found full employment in a STEM field. In 2009, AAAS held the first-ever conference for engineers with disabilities, " Problem Solvers: Education and Career Paths of Engineers with Disabilities."

More recently, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition held a meeting in January 2014 on the topic of 'Disability Rights and Accessing the Benefits of Scientific Progress and Its Applications." Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google presented, as well as James Thurston of Microsoft, representatives of the U.S. government, scientists and engineers with disabilities and disability rights advocates. Several speakers addressed the symbolic and practical significance of U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.