A More Inclusive America: We Can’t Wait

by Kathy Martinez on July 18, 2012 · 3 comments

Next week—July 26 to be exact—marks 22 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Like other pieces of civil rights legislation, this landmark law works to ensure a more inclusive America. Its passage paved the way for millions of Americans to more fully participate in all aspects of community life.

I am one of those millions of people. I was born blind. My sister Peggy was also born blind. We were the middle of six children, and as of yet there is no diagnosis for our blindness.

When Peggy and I were growing up, there was no ADA, and we didn’t know much about the emerging disability rights movement. We were too busy just being kids. But, fortunately, we had parents who understood the importance of inclusion and fought for our rights even before the law backed them up. To start, they advocated for me, and later Peggy, to attend our local public school. This allowed us to be part of, rather than separate from, our community. My parents couldn’t wait for change, so they made it happen.

Today, the ADA enshrines in law what my parents—and many others—already knew: the ideal of equal opportunity holds no water unless it truly includes all people, including people with disabilities.

That said, more than two decades after the ADA was passed, much work remains to be done. And that’s why I do what I do every day. I have the honor of leading DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), which works to influence national policy and promote effective workplace practices that ensure today’s workforce is inclusive of all people.

While ODEP does not enforce the ADA, the law underpins all of our work. We assist employers and individuals in understanding their rights and responsibilities through policy development, education and guidance. I sometimes say that we at ODEP are impatient. We want change. We want action. We want inclusion. Just like my parents when I was young, we can’t wait.

We can’t wait for more employers to foster a work environment that is flexible and open to the talents of all qualified individuals. We can’t wait for more businesses to integrate people with disabilities into leadership positions. We can’t wait for a more inclusive America, one where every individual has the opportunity to fully participate in and contribute to our great nation.

Kathy Martinez is the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caroline Burks July 19, 2012 at 8:56 am

When my father had a stroke that left him in a wheelchair, the importance of this law I didn’t pay much attention to was made clear. Trying to lift my 175 lb. father up on a curve where there were no ramps or maneuver to get him in a door (probably a lot people know that old “butt hold” move) and push the wheelchair at the same time became an art. Oh, and don’t get me started on able-bodied people parking in a handicapped space “just for a minute” as you circle the parking lot looking for a space on the end so you can get the wheelchair in place to transfer him. I’m so grateful for the ADA!!

2 floyd morgan July 27, 2012 at 1:41 pm

i was injured on job, in 1985 the ssa payment started in 1987 but i was paid by state of ca, and workers-comp, that stop paying at 65 years old, i was 100% vested and are paid 330.00 monthly to day by the pbgc or the union.

3 Rebecca Ross August 19, 2012 at 2:56 am

I was born with Cerebral Palsy for an unknown cause. The ADA backed my parents and me up so many times. My high school tried to take my aide away before I was ready to go to school on my own. (I had an aide since I started school so I guess I got used to having someone there.) My mom and I fought my IEP team and we almost went to court over this and couple more issues. Thank you, ADA, for giving me the equal opporunite to go to school and get the same education :)

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