Progress Made and Challenges Ahead: 23 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

by Secretary Tom Perez on July 25, 2013 · 4 comments

The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of our nation’s proudest civil rights triumphs. It is a watershed, transformative law that has allowed so many Americans to enjoy lives of greater dignity, opportunity and self-determination. It was a great honor today to speak at a White House celebration of the ADA’s 23rd anniversary.

White House roundtable meeting

Secretary Perez (behind President Obama) and administration officials meet with leaders who work with the disability community, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, July 25, 2013.

The ADA has made us a more inclusive, more humane society, one that is more faithful to our founding ideals. It changed the law, yes; but in so doing it also changed hearts, minds and attitudes. It has revolutionized the way society thinks about individuals with disabilities, and it revolutionized the way people with disabilities live in our communities. It literally opened millions of doors for millions of people who had been marginalized and ostracized.

But there is work to be done every day to make the full promise of the ADA a reality. I’ve spent the last four years as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, where one of my top priorities and responsibilities was ADA enforcement. And there is a seamless connection between that work and my responsibilities as the new secretary of labor.

The way I see it: the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Labor Department are both in the opportunity business. Whether it’s a Justice Department settlement with Wells Fargo that allows people with hearing and speech disabilities to do their personal banking, or the Labor Department’s Disability Employment Initiative investing $63 million to increase the workforce system’s capacity to provide job training for persons with disabilities, it’s all about protecting, promoting and expanding opportunity.

People with disabilities want to work and are able to work. They want to be independent and self-sufficient. They want to be in the economic mainstream. They even want to pay taxes.  They want the feeling of pride and purpose that comes with waking up every morning, performing a job and earning a paycheck at the end of the week.

I’m not naïve about the challenges. As far as we’ve come, still only one in five people with disabilities are participating in the labor force at all. That’s not acceptable. We can’t thrive in a competitive global economy if half our team is on the bench.

The progress we need demands a bipartisan, collaborative, consensus-building approach, just as it was with the passage of the ADA. It has to be with passionate and principled advocates leading the way. It has to be with the full buy-in of state and local governments. It has to be with the cooperation and partnership of leaders in the business community, so many of whom have already seen the light and are being smart about recruiting employees with disabilities.

It has to be with all hands on deck, a voice for every interested party, a seat at the table for every stakeholder. All of us must answer the call of this moral and economic imperative.

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tom Delia July 26, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I taught the special needs population for 32 years. I had a community-based program at the high school I taught at for the last 12 years in which my students were getting hired by the employers I had them assigned to. Along comes more academic requirements and the program was cancelled. We need job training to count towards high school graduation.

2 Lorain July 31, 2013 at 9:19 pm

I work with Goodwill Industries in the Workforce Development Department. I gives me great pleasure to work with some of our participants, to see the “proudness” on their faces when they’re given the opportunity to show their potential, help their families and contribute to society and the communities they work and live in.

3 Katrina Carter August 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Thanks to the ADA I am a person with physical and speech impairments who just received a bachelor degree from the University of Washington. Now I am trying to start an independent genealogy research business to help others. Do you know of any g00d res0urces?

Katrina

4 Sandra Walters September 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

“The ADA has made us a more inclusive, more humane society, one that is more faithful to our founding ideals. It changed the law, yes; but in so doing it also changed hearts, minds and attitudes. It has revolutionized the way society thinks about individuals with disabilities, and it revolutionized the way people with disabilities live in our communities. It literally opened millions of doors for millions of people who had been marginalized and ostracized.”

“People with disabilities want to work and are able to work. They want to be independent and self-sufficient. They want to be in the economic mainstream. They even want to pay taxes. They want the feeling of pride and purpose that comes with waking up every morning, performing a job and earning a paycheck at the end of the week.”
( Secretary Perez)

As I read your blog on the ADA progress , I question whether you are aware of the struggles of a member of your OWCP family who was recently terminated by your management team in the Southeast Region. This federal employee had 12 exceptional years working for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). She is a stellar employee who filed an ADA and subsequent workers compensation claims based on a disability that could have been accommodated, and she could have kept her job as a viable federal employee. However, she was terminated because management refused to even consider Telework or a “no cost” solution to her disability. This employee wants to work, but management did not even give her the courtesy to explore job options within the agency, the employee was marginalized and ostracized from the start. You stated “only one in five people with disabilities are participating in the labor force at all.” Well now you have one less than that, by the hands of your very own management team.

On July 25, 2013, as you were meeting with President Obama, and writing this press release, your OWCP employee of 12 years, was writing a plea to your management team asking for help in deciphering a complex ADA request. Management shut every door and wrote the termination letter effective August 23, 2013. You say it’s all about protecting, promoting and expanding opportunity. What happened to her opportunity?

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