20 years ago today, the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transformed our nation’s disability policy and made a strong statement about the value of diversity and inclusion.
In the years that have passed this landmark legislation has fundamentally altered the landscape of employment, government services, businesses, public areas, transportation and many other avenues of modern life – opening access for those with disabilities in the process.
The impact of this legislation has been felt by many, and that was no accident. The ADA was built upon the foundation of community involvement from disability advocates joining with the civil rights and social justice movements to create a common call for action. The legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin – a Democrat – won support from both sides of the aisle and was eventually signed into law by President George H.W. Bush – a Republican.
While its legacy of bi-partisans cooperation is timely given the current political climate, the ADA’s 20th anniversary also provides a unique opportunity for the Department of Labor (DOL) to reaffirm its commitment to the ADA’s principles of equality, access and inclusion; and to recommit itself to ensuring that the goal of good and safe jobs for everyone includes workers with disabilities.
Last week, the Department of Labor published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking inviting the public to assist in the revision of the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and strengthen disability regulations related to federal contractors. The regulations have required equal employment opportunity and affirmative action in the hiring practices of federal contractors since the 1970s, yet the rate of people with disabilities who are unemployed or not in the labor force remains significantly higher than those without disabilities.
According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, just one in five people with disabilities were in the labor force, and the unemployment rate for those with disabilities remains much higher than the national average.
The Department of Labor offers resources and support to all Americans with disabilities. Our Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) provides national leadership on disability employment policy and practice by developing and influencing the use of evidence-based disability employment policies and practices and building collaborative partnerships.
We also provide support for programs such as Disability.gov, Americas Heroes at Work (which provides employment support to wounded warriors and Veterans with disabilities) and the National Resource Directory, as well as funding for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) – the nation’s leading resource for workplace related accommodations. Also, our one-stop career centers work tirelessly to support individuals with disabilities by connecting them to employment.
On Friday, July 30th we will be commemorating this important anniversary at the Department of Labor with former U.S. Congressman Tony Coelho, author and sponsor of the ADA, and Christine Griffin, Deputy Director, Office of Personnel Management. We are also inducting Justin Dart, Jr. and Helen Keller into the Department’s Labor Hall of Fame. Dart is widely regarded as the “father of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Keller’s story as an advocate who was deaf and blind taught the world that every worker has something positive to contribute when given an opportunity.
And as part of our celebration of this important milestone for the Americans with Disabilities Act, we’re asking everyone the question, “How has the ADA impacted your life?” I encourage you to visit www.disability.gov and share your story.
Access to fair employment is a fundamental right of every American. It is time to update this regulation to ensure that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, has access to good jobs.