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President Obama recently announced that the United States will sign on to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at a ceremony commemorating the 19th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

‘Until every American with a disability can learn in their local public school in the manner best for them, until they can apply for a job without fear of discrimination, and live and work independently in their communities if that’s what they choose, we’ve got more work to do,’ said Obama.

Under the Convention, signatory nations are required to prohibit discrimination based on disability in employment, education, housing, medical care, and other areas and ensure that mass media like television, newspapers, and the internet is provided in accessible formats for the visually and hearing impaired. Nations are also required to collect data and research on people with disabilities to track and eliminate disparities in opportunity. A U.N. committee will monitor compliance with the treaty and review a comprehensive report to be submitted by signatory nations at least every four years.

In the fall of 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed and President Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008, which overturned recent Supreme Court decisions that had reduced protections for certain people with disabilities – including people with diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, mental disabilities, and cancer – who were intended to be covered by the original ADA. According to the Census Bureau, more than 54 million people in the U.S., or 19 percent of the population, have some level of a disability.