President Clinton proposed new plans to aid Americans with disabilities during the 10th anniversary celebration of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, held Wednesday at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.
On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became a landmark civil rights law. For a decade, the act has aided people with physical and mental disabilities in winning various rights, ranging from equal employment opportunities and equal access to health care, to equal participation in recreational activities and freedom from unnecessary institutionalization.
President Clinton was joined by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and other government officials in the celebration, including Justin Dart, a well-known advocate for disability civil rights.
The ceremony drew more than 1,000 people, including members of civil rights organizations and disability advocates.
“The ADA has changed American ways we have, I think, forgotten to be conscious of,” Clinton said. “Curve cuts, rail signs, closed captioning; these things are part of everyday life now.
“It's also changing the way, I think, many Americans see one another, and dropping a lot of those invisible barriers,” he said.
The president discussed five new efforts to promote equality for disabled citizens. The first plan, he said, is “to do more to remove barriers to work.”
“From now on, the earnings limit will be automatically adjusted every year, based on the national average rate index,” Clinton said. “This will reward work and help as many as 400,000 Americans with disabilities.”
Clinton said his next goal is to sign an executive order that will allow federal agencies to hire 100,000 disabled citizens by the 15th anniversary of the ADA. Clinton also acknowledged Marques Moore, 28, of Bowling Green, Ky., for helping draft the order.
Moore was one of 10 young people seated on the ceremony's stage; all have disabilities and have been active in disability awareness. Moore sustained a spinal cord injury after a bull-riding accident in 1990 and is currently a student at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.
“When you look at the young people on this stage, you know that you have given them a better today,” said Clinton. “When we leave (this ceremony), we should leave committed to giving them a much better tomorrow.”
Clinton's third goal is to work with Congress to enact legislation of the first bipartisan Family Opportunity Act, which was introduced by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The act is to protect Medicaid coverage for children with disabilities.
The fourth goal is to launch Access America, a Web site that will be used to inform people about the latest in disabled American issues. Clinton's fifth goal is to enlist Congress's aid to continue its support of ADA.
“We must be vigilant in defending the rights we have already secured, as our budget increases funds for ADA enforcement,” Clinton said. “I also ask Congress to pass our $1,000 tax credit, to help workers with disabilities pay for support services, and technologies needed to stay on the job, and our $3,000 tax credit for Americans of all ages.”
Several administration officials were present at the event, including Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, Office of Personnel Management director Janice Lachance and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chairwoman Ida Castro.
Present and former members of Congress were also in attendance, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).
“With the ADA, we as a nation said we cannot have civil rights without disability rights, and we promised to replace fear and ignorance and discrimination based on disability with opportunity based on ability,” Hillary Clinton said.
Clinton also announced steps that will help support disabled youth, including a plan by the Department of Education to reach out to schools in order to stop the harassment of students with disabilities. “This is to ensure that all children feel respected and protected,” she said.
Other speakers were Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Harkin, using sign language, talked about his speech-impaired brother, Frank, who had recently died.
“He was an inspiration to me as we worked on the disability laws,” Harkin said, through an interpreter. “It's been a month since I lost my brother. But for the last 10 years, he told me that he wishes that ADA was passed when he was a young kid, but it wasn't. He was happy, but now the young people of America got ADA passed for the future.”
“We have to defend the ADA against the tactics of the Supreme Court and Congress,” Harkin said, amid applause. “We have to close the digital divide for people with disabilities. We must stop genetic discrimination. We must stop hate crimes.”
Hatch talked about the significance of the place the ceremony was held, the Roosevelt Memorial, based upon the presidency of a man who was stricken with polio.
“We did not build this memorial to FDR because he had polio. We honor FDR because of what he accomplished during his life, and the kind of person he was, and what he meant to so many Americans,” Hatch said. “It is a fitting reminder that greatness is measured by what we do, and who we are, not by what we have and by what we cannot do.”