The Americans with Disabilities Act, civil rights for an emerging minority.
During the national elections of 1988, Americans with disabilities were identified as a group that influenced election outcomes, and the solidarity with which people with disabilities supported ADA played a major role in passage of the legislation. It is therefore timely and appropriate to proceed with the implementation of this civil rights legislation for an emerging minority.
Like other segments of the population, Americans with disabilities will now be able to gain access to public transportation, telecommunications and other public and private establishments and facilities. We can now fully participate in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
The major focus of the programs administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration is preparation for placement in and retention of employment for people with disabilities. Title I of ADA also focuses on employment for people with disabilities and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in hiring and retention practices. While ADA in its entirety is relevant to RSA programs in our relentless efforts to increase opportunities for independence, integration and empowerment for all Americans with disabilities, Title I is very important to RSA because training and placing people with disabilities in competitive employment continues to be our number one priority.
As the rehabilitation community coordinates efforts with EEOC, the President's Committee for Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD), the Department of Justice, and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, we will concentrate our efforts on those issues that relate to increasing employment opportunties and reducing the 67 percent unemployment rate among people with disabilities.
One of the first and most obvious responsibilities of rehabilitation is to assure that adequate evaluation and vocational training for preparing individuals to enter the labor force is available through the public rehabilitation programs. Because people with disabilities now participate in every vocation known to our society, the out-dated practice of directing individuals toward stereotypical occupations is gone forever and is replaced with a process that gives a significant percentage of the responsibility for developing the individualized written rehabilitation program to the person seeking rehabilitation services. Choices in the rehabilitation process will take on added weight.
Creating employment opportunities will continue to be a challenge for rehabilitation professonals. ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in hiring; but that is not the same as creating job opportunities. With the expertise that exists in the field of rehabilitation, we can demonstrate to public and private employers that reasonable accommodations are more often than not achievable, simple and inexpensive. There must be a coordinated and massive national technical assistance effort to assist employers and assure employment opportunities.
Our state and federal systems continue to harbor a number of work program and policy initiatives that create real barriers to reducing the unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities. A classic example is the loss of Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits when employed. Systems changes will be essential to allow adequate medical coverage for those who want to work.
Civil rights legislation can and will remove physical and program barriers from the environment, but it can not remove the attitudes about disability that continue to exist in the minds of some people and that create the strongest barriers to full equality. The passage of ADA has created a window of opportunity for public education about disability.
Demonstrating the ability of Americans with disabilities is one of the most effective ways to remove stereotypical attitudes. Whenever a competent, qualified worker with a disability enters the workplace, negative attitudes about disability are dispelled.
President George Bush has set a splendid example for the rest of us to follow. He has appointed a number of qualified individuals with disabilities to serve in leadership positions in his administration. He has led the way in attacking attitudinal barriers, a responsibility in which well all share.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its subsequent amendments through 1986 provides the authorities to train and place people in employment and to integrate people into the communities through independent living programs. The authorities provide an excellent base for empowerment and a means for addressing negative attitudes about disability.
Implementation of ADA will enhance the authorities in the Rehabilitation Act. Both critical legislative acts will compliment each other and work well together for the benefit of Americans with disabilities.
In addition to RSA's cooperative efforts with EEOC and PCEPD, we have established linkage with other federal agencies involved in the development of regulations and the Technical Assistance Plan for all four titles of ADA. Our cooperative efforts with the National Council on Disability and the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board work to assure full civil rights for people with disabilities.
Beginning in 1991, ADA related training and materials will be included in the training programs for professional personnel development funded by RSA. The Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs and state VR In-Service training programs supported by RSA will also offer ADA related training and materials. In addition, we will include a priority on ADA training for our short-term training programs.
We are also developing a resource and preparing RSA staff for the provision of technical assistance at the national and regional levels on issues related to ADA and its implementation. Working together with all levels of government, we will strive to coordinate the functions of the state-federal rehabilitation program with the provisions of ADA in a practical way that will ultimately result in increased opportunities for people with disabilities.
Although a major thrust of our efforts will be directed towards employment opportunities for people with disabilities, we must not and will not ignore the need for independence and increased opportunities for participation for people who are disabled but not seeking employment. We will work continually to assure that opportunities for participation created by the Americans with Disabilities Act are available as choices for all Americans with disabilities--choices that lead to empowerment--empowerment that translates into full equality.
Nell C. Carney, Commissioner Rehabilitation Services Administration