Marca Bristo, president and CEO of Access Living, an organization for people with disabilities, is pushing for Senate approval of a treaty for equal rights for people with disabilities.
According to the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD) website, 153 countries have already signed the treaty. This means they intend to comply. Out of the 153 countries, 137 countries have ratified the treaty; the U.S. was not one of them.
Bristo got involved in the disability movement after a diving accident in 1977 which left her paralyzed from the chest down. Despite her disibility, Bristo said she wants people to know she and other leaders are leaders for this issue because they want to see change.
“We’re here because of what we’re trying to get done, not because of us,” Bristo said. “This is unfinished work of the disabled community that we are going to finish.”
On Wednesday Oct. 10, Bristo made a call to action for the treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), at Webster University. She prompted the audience to tweet for U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., to support the treaty.
“I believe we will only win if we get the senator’s support and if we can find a way to mobilize more of you (students),” Bristo said.
The Senate will need 67 votes to ratify the treaty. According to the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD,) the Senate failed to pass the treaty last December, lacking five Republican senator votes. Blunt was one of the five who voted against the treaty. If the Senate approves the treaty, it will then be sent to the president.
People with disabilities face issues such as receiving education, finding jobs, getting proper healthcare, transportation and fitting in. Bristo said the CRPD treaty will help ensure people will give the same rights and opportunities to everyone.
One person the treaty would benefit is Ava Roesslein, a journalism student at Webster University. Roesslein was born three months prematurely, which prevented her brain from fully developing and she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy appears in infancy or early childhood affects movement and posture. It is caused by abnormal development, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke’s website.
Doctors told her she would never walk. Determined, Roesslein took her first steps two weeks before her sixth birthday. However, Roesslein said she can’t walk long distances. She gets around campus using a scooter, and drives home on the weekends with the help of handicap driving aids installed in her car. Roesslein said she may not get things done the way those without disabilities do, but she definitely gets it done.
“I’ve always proved people wrong,” Roesslein said.
Roesslein said she has experienced discrimination because of her cerebral palsy.
“I was working with a sports writer, and he said that I should be able to walk just because another guy with the same disorder could,” RoessLein said. “That was a slap in the face.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), prohibits the discrimination of disabled people, and ensures equal opportunity in employment, state and local government services, and public accommodations. Bristo helped draft and promote the act. According to Chicago Magazine, she has helped get wheelchair lifts on Chicago Transit Authority buses and improved accessibility in Chicago public schools.
Bristo said she hopes the treaty empowers those with disabilities, like Roesslein.
“We are powerful individuals who have a mission to change the world,” Briston said.
Editor’s Note: Ava Roesslein was a staff writer for The Journal