Twenty-four years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. The law’s passage signaled America’s commitment to achieving equality for all its citizens by providing long overdue protections for people with disabilities. We have made tremendous progress toward this goal, but we have yet to reach the point at which every person can realize the fundamental rights, protections, and freedoms afforded to each of us by the United States Constitution.
The Administration for Community Living (ACL) continues to build on the legacy of the ADA and related legislation with initiatives designed to ensure persons with disabilities achieve full integration and inclusion in every aspect of American life. Our focus is on creating communities where every American has the opportunity to lead a rich, rewarding, and meaningful life.
Voting: One of the fundamental rights all Americans enjoy is the right to vote. But rights mean little without the ability to exercise them. The ACL is helping to make this fundamental right accessible to Americans by awarding Help American Vote Act grants to states so they can improve accessibility to voting places and while also ensuring that protection and advocacy agencies can provide legal protections for persons with disabilities.
Employment: Every American deserves the opportunity to find meaningful work. On February 12, 2014, President Obama formally signed an executive order making it illegal for companies providing services to the federal government to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. This is an important achievement, but it is only a first step. This week President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. This job-training bill brings the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, the State Independent Living Councils and Centers for Independent Living, and the Assistive Technology program to ACL. These additions will enhance our ability to provide cross- disability programming and meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
Support for Families: Families are at the core of providing long-term services and supports to people with disabilities and older Americans. Of the more than 4.7 million American citizens with intellectual or developmental disabilities, 75 percent live in their communities without any formal disability services. They rely on their families for varying levels of support (more than a quarter of the people providing support are over 60 years of age). Millions of working families are providing unpaid care to their loved ones and sometimes to multiple generations of loved ones, simultaneously. We have made investments through the Supporting Families project and are planning new investments intended to inform the design, implementation, and continuous improvement of federal and state policies and programs related to helping people with disabilities and their family caregivers.
Nonetheless, sometimes when we try to envision a future that offers greater inclusion of people with disabilities, it can be difficult to recognize the subtle challenges that will arise over time. Independence to Inclusion, a documentary video produced by the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and Twin Cities Public Television, offers a moving depiction of this. As the documentary illustrates, we need to be careful to ensure that when we design systems for people with disabilities and families, we do not make assumptions about what is best for people and inadvertently create new barriers to full inclusion. This documentary provides context to the phrase “nothing about us without us.” It reinforces the principles embodied in the Developmental Disabilities Act “to assure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families participate in the design of and have access to needed community services, individualized supports, and other forms of assistance that promote self-determination, independence, productivity, and integration and inclusion in all facets of community life, through culturally competent programs.”
That is why, as we celebrate the remarkable progress made under the ADA, I ask you to join me in committing to something more. Let us combine the insight and experience of the past 24 years with a renewed sense of urgency to create a culture in which all Americans can live with independence and dignity, while also enjoying the full range of opportunities that this great nation has to offer.
About the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and the Administration for Intellection and Developmental Disabilities (AIDD): Operating within the ACL, AIDD provides financial and leadership support to organizations in every state and territory in the United States. This mission of the AIDD is to ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities and their families can fully participate in and contribute to all aspects of community life.