Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

On December 13, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (defining disability as “an evolving concept . . . that results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”). The fundamental purpose of the Convention is to end all forms of discrimination against disabled persons by elaborating their rights and providing for their implementation. The Convention entered into force in 2008, and as of this writing boasts 155 signatories and 128 ratifying parties, each of which (including Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Russia) have committed to develop and carry out “policies, laws, and administrative measures” to secure the rights recognized in the Convention and to abolish “laws, regulations, customs, and practices” that impede their realization. The United States, regrettably, is not among them. On December 12, 2012, the U.S. Senate, led by a Republican opposition claiming the Convention would infringe American sovereignty, voted against giving its advice and consent to the Convention’s ratification (even though the Convention was supported by George W. Bush and modeled after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], which had been signed into law by George H. W. Bush). Senate Majority Leader Reid of Nevada has reportedly pledged to return the Convention to the Senate floor in the present 113th Congress. One must hope that he does and that he and his Senate colleagues will take seriously the facts of disability worldwide, including the finding of scholars that, as stated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “the link between disability and poverty and social exclusion is direct and strong throughout the world.”

1 — Approximate number of persons (in billions) who suffer some disability, totaling about 15% of the world’s population, the world’s largest minority; of this number, between 100 million and 190 million people 15 years and older have significant difficulties in functioning (Washington Post, 2011; World Health Organization, 2012).

6 — Percent of Indian women forcibly sterilized for being disabled, according to a 2004 study in Orissa, India, with nearly every disabled woman and girl surveyed having been beaten at home, and 25% of women with intellectual disabilities having been raped (United Nations, 2004).

20.3 — Percent of disabled Iowans who live below the poverty line ($21,954 per family of four in 2009) compared to 8.6% of Iowans without disabilities (State Data Center for Iowa 2011, United States Census Bureau, 2009).

23 — Number of U.S. states with high school graduation rate differences of 20% or more among disabled students and their classmates―the highest in Mississippi at 52%, the lowest in South Dakota at 1% (U.S. Department of Education, 2012).

24.3 — Percent of African-Americans five years of age and older who suffer a disability, compared to 24.3% of American Indians, 20.9% of Hispanics, and 18.3% of Caucasians (United States Health & Human Services, Office of Disability, 2012).

31 — Number of electric shocks given to an eighteen-year-old student in a single day in 2002 as part of a controversial behavioral modification technique utilized by a “special needs school” in Massachusetts―an event provocative enough to warrant a U.N. special rapporteur on torture to initiate formal investigations of the school (New York Magazine, 2012; Judge Rotenberg Center, 2012; The Guardian, 2012).

33.9 — Percent of disabled U.S. citizens, ages 21–64, employed nationwide in 2010―the highest statewide percentage being North Dakota at 52.3%, the lowest Kentucky at 25.8% (Cornell University Disability Statistics, 2010).

53 — Approximate percent of disabled persons in low-income countries who are unable to afford health care, in contrast to 32–33% without disabilities, the former being four times more likely to report maltreatment by medical professionals and three times more likely to be denied healthcare altogether (World Health Organization, 2011).

61 — IQ of intellectually disabled Martin Lee Wilson, who, in August 2012, was executed in Texas despite a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision prohibiting the execution of persons with intellectual disabilities by reason of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment (The Atlantic, 2012).

80 — Percent of unemployed working-age persons in developing countries living with a disability, in contrast to 50–70% in developed countries; in 2010, approximately 60% of disabled U.S. citizens were unemployed (United Nations, Cornell University Disability Statistics, 2010).

90 — Estimated percentage of disabled children in developing nations as of 2007 unable to attend school due to their disability (UNICEF, 2007).

135 — Number of disabled Ghanaians sent to the Mount Horeb Prayer Camp in 2011, where, because of a prevailing belief that evil spirits cause disabilities, they were chained for 24 hours a day and forced to eat, defecate, bathe, and sleep within the confines of their two-meter chains (Human Rights Watch, 2012).

25,742 — Number of lawsuits filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission in 2011 pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the highest annual number ever, with plaintiffs awarded $103 million overall (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2011).

36,800 — Average annual dollar income of U.S. households with a working-age disabled family member, with 27% of disabled Americans living below the poverty line in 2010, in contrast to 8% of Americans without disabilities living below the poverty line (United States Census Bureau, 2010; Cornell University Disability Statistics, 2010).

16,700,000 — Number of U.S. adults unable to walk 1/4 mile or to walk that distance only with great difficulty, equivalent to 7.3% of the U.S. adult population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).

54,000,000 — Number of U.S. citizens with a disability in 2002, i.e., one in every five Americans―arthritis/rheumatism, back/spine problems, and heart trouble being the three most prevalent disabilities (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2012; United States Center for Disease & Control, 2009).

*Copyright © 2013 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Brittany Bermudez, Phil Kassel, Chelsea Moore, Dee Patters, and Carolyn Warner, students at the UI College of Law. For further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site.