President Obama Issues Proclamation on the ADA’s 19th Birthday

     Sunday July 26, 2009 marked the 19th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Obama issued a proclamation last Friday July 24th celebrating the passage of this landmark legislation. The President noted that the ADA “established a clear mandate agianst discrimination on the basis of disability so that people with disabilities would have an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.”

    The President declared that “As we reflect upon the past and look toward a brighter future, we recognize that our country has made great progress. More than ever before, Americans with disabilities enjoy greater access to technology and economic self- sufficiency. More communities are accessible, more children with disabilites learn along side their peers, and more employers recognize the capabilities of people with disabilities.”

    President Obama, however, goes on to note that:

      “Despite these achievements, much work remains to be done. People with disabilities far too often  lack the choice to live in communities of their choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much likelier to live in poverty; health care is out of reach for too many; and too many children with disabilities are denied a world-class education.” President Obama then points out some of the actions his Administration has taken to meet these challenges: the “Year of Community Living” to assist people living where they choose, doubling the funding for the IDEA, signing the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act and the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, and lifting the ban on stem cell research.

     President Bush Sr., who originally signed the ADA into law in 1990, applauded President Obama’s commemoration of the anniversary of the ADA. President Bush Sr. said: “there is no place in our society for prejudice of any kind, yet it is not that long ago when Americans with disabilities were often not given equal rights and opportunites.”

     From my personal perspective, after more than thirty three years representing persons with disabilities, we have come a long way but we had a long way to come. The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (now the IDEA) was passed by Congress in 1975. Section 504 was enacted in 1973 but the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare did not promulgate regulations to clarify and enforce the law until June 1977. The federal Fair Housing Act was not amended to protect persons with disabilities until 1988. Finally in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted. But due to narrow interpretations by the Supreme Court the law had to be amended just last year to reinstate the broader definition of disability that Congress originally intended.

     For someone who was in 6th Grade when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, all of this landmark legislation is in recent memory. So, President Bush Sr. is correct when he reminds us that “it is not that long ago when Americans with disabilities were not given equal rights and opportunities.” We should celebrate coming a long way in a short time, while being  mindful that “Despite these achievements, much work needs to be done.”

Happy 19th Birthday ADA! 

Justice Department Issues New Fact Sheet on the Rights of Persons with HIV or AIDS to Obtain Occupational Training and State Licensing

     Yesterday, July 16th, the US Justice Department released a technical assistance fact sheet clarifying the ADA’s requirements relating to admitting individuals with HIV or AIDS to occupational training schools and granting state licensure in occupations such as barbering, massage therapy, and home health care assistance. The fact sheet was necessary because overly broad state licensure requirements that applicants for these occupations  be free from communicable diseases  have unfairly discriminated against persons with HIV or AIDS. In the press release announcing the fact sheet, the Justice Department affirmatively states that HIV is not communicated through casual contact and excluding individuals with HIV under these licensure requirements is unnecessary and discriminates against these individuals in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The fact sheet is intended to provide guidance for state licensing agencies and occupational training schools so that individuals with HIV or AIDS have an equal opportunity to pursue these professions.

    Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Rights Division, said:

     “People with HIV or AIDS should not be denied access to their chosen profession because of outdated laws or unfounded stereotypes and fears. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is committed to the full and fair enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

     The new fact sheet is brief, clear, to the point, and can be found on the Department of Justice website.     

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