July 26, 2000
This week marks the 10th anniversary of one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation ever enacted into law in this country. In 1990, for millions of Americans with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act offered the hope of a brighter future. Before the ADA, the doors to opportunity and achievement were closed, discrimination was a way of life, talent was ignored, passion unimagined and beauty invisible.
With the passage of the ADA, activities once the sole province of the so-called "able-bodied" -- dinner in a restaurant, a night at the theater, tickets to a baseball game -- were, for the first time, not just a dream. But beyond dinner and the theater, the ADA, in concert with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed 25 years ago, offered the hope of a life without harassment or discrimination -- a life where children would no longer be relegated to "special schools"; where capable adults could go to college, take a job, commute, and even pay taxes.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the ADA, the President and I chose the new FDR Memorial in Washington. There, we unveiled a series of initiatives designed to build on the foundation of this landmark legislation -- initiatives intended to expand employment opportunities and strengthen the ADA's promise of equal treatment under the law.
Among the proposals the President announced are provisions to open an Office of Disability Policy in the Department of Labor; increase to 100,000 the number of federal workers with disabilities; improve the procedures for reasonable accommodation requests; rid federal programs of disability-based discrimination; and unveil a new web site, at www.disAbility.gov, designed to offer quick access to services and other resources for people with disabilities and their families.
No one should have to live in an institution or nursing home if, with the proper support, living in the community is a viable option. This week, the Vice President took the opportunity to announce several initiatives designed to help those with disabilities move out of institutions and into their communities. With this goal in mind, he unveiled new funding for disability and technology research; increased support for Centers for Independent Living; measures to make it easier for those with disabilities to own a home; and specific assistance for those with mental illness.
It has been a source of pride for me to be associated with an administration that has fought so vigorously to uphold and expand the protections of the ADA. But despite the law's bold promise, we know that, even 10 years later, significant barriers stand in the way of those who live with disabilities -- especially when they are ready to step into the job market. Since the President took office in 1993, 21 million new jobs have been created. At the same time, a whole generation of young people with disabilities -- young people who represent the most severely underemployed and unemployed minority in our nation -- have graduated from high school or college and are ready to work. It is up to all of us -- family members, school officials, employers and government leaders -- to make sure that they have the tools they need to get these jobs and to become productive and contributing members of society.
In order to help these young job seekers, the mandate of a presidential task force, whose mission is to increase the employment opportunities for adults with disabilities, will be expanded to include young people as they prepare to enter the job market. In particular, the members of the task force will focus on issues involving education, transition, employment, health and independent living. The task force will also work with the "Able to Work" Consortium, a private collaboration of some of America's largest companies -- including Microsoft and the Ford Motor Co. -- to offer meaningful internships to potential employees. In addition, in an effort to encourage and enable these young people to take jobs, the Social Security Administration will increase the amount of money a student can earn without losing SSI and Medicaid benefits. And the Department of Education will issue guidelines to help schools address the all-too-evident harassment problems that arise due to disabilities. As I stood at the FDR Memorial this week, I read these words, uttered by Franklin Roosevelt 60 years ago: "No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources."
For too long, Americans have wasted the resources of the 54 million among us with disabilities. This week, as we celebrate the contribution that they have made to this country, especially in the 10 years since the passage of the ADA, we must not forget President Roosevelt's words. For only when all Americans have the opportunity and the tools they need to become fully contributing members of society -- only when we no longer waste these precious human resources -- will our job be done.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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