Clinton marks passage of disabilities act, announces government hiring initiative
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lawmakers past and present joined President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial in Washington on Tuesday to mark the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act as the White House unveiled new initiatives to build upon the landmark legislation.
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President George Bush 10 years ago Wednesday, the Americans with Disabilities Act is regarded by many people with disabilities in much the same way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is revered by many minority Americans.
President Clinton announced Wednesday that he will further goals of the ADA by issuing a directive calling on all federal agencies to hire 100,000 people with disablities over a five-year period.
The ADA bars job discrimination, requires access by the disabled to public and private buildings and services, and mandates that transportation and telecommunications be made more technically friendly to the disabled. Clinton said many with disabilities who have reaped its benefits regard its enactment less as an expression of sympathy than as grant of self-determination.
"They don't want excuses. Instead, they want opportunity in terms of jobs and careers," he said.
The ADA defines a disabled person as one with a physical or mental impairment that "substantially limits" one or more "major life activities." The person must have a "record" of the impairment or must be "regarded" as having a history of problems, according to the law.
Advocacy groups and the federal government estimate there are now 54 million disabled Americans in the United States. The goal of the ADA, Congress wrote, was to "assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency" for the disabled.
"If we could just remember a few basic things: that everybody counts; everybody deserves a chance; everybody has a role to play; we all do better when we help each other," Clinton said.
The law states that disabled people may not be denied jobs solely because of their disabilities and that employers must make "reasonable accommodations" so disabled workers can perform the essential aspects of their jobs.
The law also says public and private buildings must allow access to the disabled by installing and maintaining wheelchair ramps, elevators and other access aids. In addition, it says that the disabled must have access to telecommunications and public transportation, while government services should include access to Braille and other assistance.
Clinton orders agencies to hire 100,000 disabled workers
However, a recent report by the National Council on Disability concluded that the ADA was not being fully enforced, and a result, people with disabilities are having a harder time trying to live a "normal" life. The group called on lawmakers to increase funding so federal agencies could enforce the ADA.
Clinton announced he will take executive action to further the goals of the ADA by ordering federal agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities over a five-year period. Additional measures would be aimed at ensuring that federal agencies establish guidelines for addressing accommodation requests and that programs are free from discrimination against people with disabilities.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new "youth-to-work initiative" to help ease the transition from school to work for disabled young people.
"The federal government must lead by example. Our federal work force is the smallest in 40 years. But as we make new hires, we need to ensure that we're tapping the deepest pool of talent," he said.
Clinton also said he hoped to increase the number of disabled people who return to work by raising the among that disabled Social Security beneficiaries can earn on their own without losing their government benefits.
He said he also hoped to work with Republicans in Congress to ensure passage of the Family Opportunity Act, aimed at ensuring that children with disabilities can keep their Medicaid coverage even when their parents return to work.
Hatch urges continued cooperation
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who was instrumental in pushing the ADA through the Senate 10 years ago, agreed that further action should be taken to build upon the landmark legislation.
"It's easy to see that our whole society is the richer for it," said Hatch, referring to the ADA. "But clearly, success cannot be measured overnight, and not even in a single decade. It will take the continued commitment of future presidents, effort and patience by individuals with disabilities and a positive attitude by all citizens to erase the taint of discrimination."
Referring to the ADA, Sen. Hatch, R-Utah, said, "It's easy to see that our whole society is the richer for it."
And first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new "youth-to-work initiative" to help ease the transition from school to work
for disabled young people.
"Passing the ADA was the beginning, not the end, of our commitment to ensure all people have the rights they are entitled to," the first lady said. "We have a new generation of Americans who want to work, expect to work, are graduating from high school, going to college."
President Clinton said that FDR Memorial was a fitting place to mark the passage of the ADA. Roosevelt kept his paralysis -- caused by a bout with polio earlier in life -- from public view during his 12 years in office, as he led the country during the Great Depression and World War II.
"Roosevelt became president at the darkest time of our country's history," Clinton said. "It took a disabled man to lead a disabled nation. They both forgot they had a disability by making it go away in their common endeavors."