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A student addresses issues at home, abroad


ChenIn 2012, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify a United Nations disabilities treaty based the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The treaty fell short of ratification by five votes. And in a confusing turn of events, Sen. James Inhofe stated, “I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society.” Others suggested that the treaty could lead to foreign groups imposing laws on U.S. children.

As a former delegate at Model United Nations (an authentic student simulation of a U.N. conference), I’d like to make one thing clear: The United Nations cannot force other nations to do as it bids. Delegates representing member nations make resolutions that draw attention to particular problems and urge actions. That’s it.

The U.N. does hold some power in the form of its Security Council, which aims to keep peace: It may take action against a military aggressor, investigate any dispute between nations and perform other duties. This means the council can use peacekeeping troops. There’s more to it, of course, but with respect to the U.N. disability treaty, just note that the Security Council has 15 members, 10 of whom serve two-year terms and five of whom — the U.S. included — are permanent members. These are just the technicalities: The U.N. has little influence beyond its ability to bring about discussion, and the U.S. has a major role in the powers it is able to use.

Looking at the bigger picture, statements against the treaty are not just ignorant, but also arrogant. While U.S. Senators are bickering over the image of shady peacekeeping troops storming the country to corrupt our nation’s disabled children, the U.N. is working to bring peace between war-torn countries, stop major human rights violations and provide clean water, food, and medicine to the seriously-in-need. To be frank, the U.N. has better things to do.

This is not to say that the disability treaty is not important. The Security Council isn’t going to send peacekeeping troops to make buildings more accessible or prevent workplace discrimination, but the treaty will provide guidelines for other countries — countries that aren’t taking these treaties as threats to their political power, but as ways to improve the lives of disabled people living and traveling within their borders.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel abroad this summer, spending time in both Canada and China.

I don’t expect China to improve very quickly. The sidewalks are uneven and made up of tiles — which, when missing, create 5-centimeter ditches — and the small stores that make up most of the streets don’t have to space or money to make their buildings more accessible through ramps, wide enough entrances or elevators.

Restrooms for people with disabilities are rare (most public restrooms have squatting toilets), and parking for people with disabilities is unheard of — in some areas, street parking means driving up the curb and onto the sidewalk. And, on the human rights side, it goes without saying that China has problems enforcing workplace regulations. In short, the goals of the disability treaty will need some time there.

Canada, however, is a different story. The Canadian side of Niagara Falls looks — unfortunately — just like Las Vegas. I don’t know enough about Canadian human rights to depict it as a haven, but, fortunately, it appears largely accessible. Our hotel, however, had one key flaw: To get to the restrooms from the lobby, guests had to walk up two flights of stairs. Canada is one of many countries that can benefit from the disability treaty. By providing a framework, the treaty can help point out the flaws in this structure and, hopefully, spur action to remodel the hotel for the better.

This past week, the treaty returned to the Senate. And although the treaty might not change anything in the U.S., I hope our senate shows the world our support — and stops embarrassing us with its ignorance.

Amy Chen recently graduated from Lake Oswego High School, and she has been writing a monthly column for the Review, which she will continue until she leaves for Stanford University. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..