U.S. signs U.N. disabilities pact, in change of course

Thu Jul 30, 2009 5:39pm EDT
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By Patrick Worsnip

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States signed a U.N. convention on Thursday aimed at ensuring equal rights for the world's 650 million disabled people, a pact that the former Bush administration refused to endorse.

In a ceremony at U.N. headquarters, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice inked the pact, billed by the United Nations as the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. It came into force last year.

The 32-page U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities outlaws all forms of discrimination at work on the basis of disability, including in hiring, promotion and working conditions. It requires equal pay for work of equal value.

It also calls on signatory states to promote the employment of disabled people, including through "affirmative action" programs that favor them.

The pact stipulates the disabled may not be excluded from mainstream education systems. It demands that governments provide them with physical access to transportation, schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces.

Bush administration officials had said the document was weaker than the 1990 U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and therefore could complicate enforcement of that law.

But Rice said the United States was "very pleased to join 141 other countries that have signed this convention in pursuit of a more just world." Sixty-one countries have ratified the pact.

President Barack Obama would soon submit the convention for Senate approval, Rice said at the ceremony attended by representatives of U.S. disability groups.   Continued...