Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Happy Sweet Sixteen, ADA

My inbox today had a few notes commemorating today's sixteenth anniversary of the signing of the ADA.

ADA Watch put out this press release:

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2006 - Today we acknowledge the 16th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - and yet another year of inaction on ADA restoration proposals put forth by the President's own advisors.

In 2004, responding to years of court decisions that have significantly weakened the ADA, the National Council on Disability (NCD) - whose 15 members were nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate - released comprehensive legislative recommendations for restoring civil rights protections for children and adults with physical, mental, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Upon release of the NCD report, Cox News Service reporter, Andrew Mollison, predicted:

"Since the council members are Bush appointees, their recommendation is expected to receive serious consideration by the Republican-controlled Congress. The president is also expected to sympathize, because he pushed hard in his first term for cheaper but better ways to get jobs for adults with disabilities, and the proposed revision of the ADA wouldn't require higher federal spending."

Despite former and current Republican members of Congress crying "foul" in response to the weakening of the ADA - Ohio Republican Senator Mike DeWine, for example, has said that he is "deeply troubled by the Court's lack of deference to Congress." - no support has come from the White House or the Congressional leadership to advance NCD's blueprints for restoring the ADA.

Jim Ward, Founder and President of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights, explains that 16 years after passage of the ADA, "more than 96% of employment case under the ADA are dismissed on "summary judgment" - meaning that the facts of the alleged discrimination are never given a fair hearing. Furthermore, people with disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes, mental illness and more are routinely denied justice and labeled "not disabled enough" by judges who narrowly interpret the intent of Congress in passing the ADA.

"Despite widespread agreement that the courts are misinterpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act, neither the White House or Congress has responded to the urgent need to reverse the damage done. Neither the White House nor Congress has heeded NCD's recommendations for legislatively restoring the Americans with Disabilities Act."

"This shameful inaction and delay by the White House and Congressional leaders, leaves unfulfilled America's promise of equal justice and opportunity for citizens with disabilities."
Representatives Hoyer, Millender-McDonald, and Langevin had an op-ed in Roll Call (thanks to Rick Hasen for the pointer). It begins:

Sixteen years ago, Congress took a major step forward in achieving America's promise of equality for all citizens by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act. This landmark legislation was, as President George H.W. Bush said when he signed it into law, "the world's first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities."

Simply put, the ADA banned all discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public accommodations, public services, transportation and telecommunications. In doing so, our society acknowledged the right of all Americans to live independently and to fully participate in all aspects of our society, including our schools, our businesses, our communities and our government.

At the Capitol, we have taken important steps to ensure that disabled individuals are able to participate in the legislative process, and to visit and enjoy the awe-inspiring history and beauty of the Capitol complex:

To ensure that disabled Members of the House are able to fully participate in floor proceedings, accommodations have been made to the House chamber that allow for wheelchair access. An adjustable podium and accessible voting station also have been installed.

To provide disabled staff with the resources necessary to perform their official duties, accommodations have been made to ensure that their assigned office space is fully accessible. In addition, the furniture replacement program provides for furnishing configurations that meet ADA design standards; administrative support offices have been outfitted with automatic door openers; the House Learning Center has been retrofitted to provide wheelchair-accessible study stations and low-vision systems for the visually impaired; and House Information Services provides resources to all House offices to ensure that House Web sites are ADA compliant.

To make Capitol square and the House office buildings more accessible not only to Members and staff but to the visiting public as well, ADA compliant signage is being installed throughout the campus; the Office of Special Services provides a number of key services to House offices and visitors with special needs; restrooms and food service facilities have been upgraded to be fully accessible; each building has been outfitted with a fully accessible entrance/exit; interior and exterior signage has been installed to identify accessible entrances, exits and restrooms; emergency egress elevators for the disabled have been designated on each floor; the campus sidewalks are being modified to include wheelchair ramps at all pedestrian crosswalks; and the Capitol Police and administrative personnel now are provided training on responding to people with disabilities.

This is an impressive list of accomplishments. Much has been done. But there is still more we must do to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. . . . .
And Representative Pelosi put out this press release:

Washington, D.C. - House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today in celebration of the 16th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act:

"The Americans with Disabilities Act affirms that every American has the right to live independently and to fully participate in all aspects of our society. This landmark legislation represents our nation's commitment to protect the civil rights of more than 54 million Americans. It has broken down barriers and it has fostered inclusion. Most significantly, it transformed society's attitudes toward people with disabilities, and it advanced our nation's fundamental calling to respect each individual.

"The ADA was founded upon the values of equality, opportunity, and independence. However, there is much work to be done. Only 32 percent of people of working age who have a disability are employed. And today, people with disabilities are still three times more likely to live in poverty.

"That is why our commitment to the ADA must never waver. Sadly, the Bush Administration's support for the rights of individuals with disabilities has been sorely lacking. President Bush has chosen judges for the federal bench who are hostile to the ADA. He has actually proposed funding cuts to Medicaid, Section 8 housing, vocational rehabilitation, and assistive technology - all of which are essential to fostering independence. Furthermore, it is alarming there are legislative proposals to allow people opportunities to disregard the ADA or to treat it as an inconvenience. These proposals are intended to weaken, not strengthen, the ADA and thus our commitment to people with disabilities. Democrats are committed to opposing these proposals vigorously.

"Democrats are committed to expanding opportunities for individuals with disabilities and all Americans."


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