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The Americans with Disabilities Act and the future for children.

My own personal experience with disability began abruptly on July 1, 1960. I was a young lawyer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, married with a growing family. My wife had driven me to work with our three boys. On the way home, she was involved in an automobile accident that took her life. But I was assured from the hospital that my two boys were safe. Two boys? The terrible shock was that Peter, our youngest, only four months old at the time, had not been immediately pulled from the wreckage. When he was finally freed, there were serious head injuries and brain damage - that kept him in the hospital for six months of delicate operations and constant - and loving - care.

That started me on those 30 years I feel many across America share - through joys and frustrations that come from family members you have learned especially to value and love. I was a single parent for three years, struggling hard to cope and get into the swing of things. Then the Lord, seeing my straits, had mercy on me and sent me Ginny.

We were married, and Ginny Thornburgh has since devoted tireless efforts to the cause of all persons with disabilities, presently heading a program on Religion and Disability for the National Organization on Disability. And we have come together to treasure Peter as an outright gift to our family.

Peter Thornburgh is 30 years old now. While greatly limited, he lives in a group residence, works at a workshop, brings home a paycheck, and pays his taxes. He lives with a degree of independence - not unfamiliar to many readers - which certainly was never anticipated by his mother and father when he was a young man. By one measure, he may have outdone us. He has realized a far greater portion of his own potential - as Ginny has pointed out many times - then perhaps many of us have.

His independence, of course, makes him vulnerable. There are known risks to his semi-free-wheeling status. But the progress this young man has made on his own is the gift of which I spoke. The gift of life and growth and opportunity that is available to all of God's people of this earth.

Today, as Attorney General of the United States, I have the privilege of participating in the dawn of a new era of opportunity for children like my son and all people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed by President Bush on July 26, 1990, gives to individuals with disabilities civil rights protection with respect to discrimination that are parallel to those which are already available to individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. It combines in its own unique formula elements drawn principally from two key civil rights statutes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA generally employs the framework of Titles II (42 U.S.C. 2000a to 2000a-6) and VII (42 U.S.C. 2000e to 2000e-16) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for coverage and enforcement, and the terms and concepts of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794) for what constitutes discrimination.

The fact sheet accompanying this article describes the highlights of the provisions of the ADA. This article will describe some of the background of the legislation and its implications for "exceptional children" and their parents.

The Americans with Disabilities Act grew out of legislation originally developed by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that reviews and makes recommendations concerning federal laws, programs, and policies affecting individuals with disabilities. In its 1986 study, "Toward Independence" the National Council on Disability recognized the inadequacy of the existing, limited patchwork of protections for individuals with disabilities, and recommended the enactment of a comprehensive civil rights law requiring equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities throughout American life. Although the 100th Congress did not act on the legislation, which was first introduced in 1988, then-Vice-President George Bush endorsed the concept of comprehensive disability rights legislation during his presidential campaign and became a dedicated advocate of the ADA.

The ADA was reintroduced in modified form in May 1989 for consideration by the 101st Congress. In june 1989, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, I reiterated the Bush Administration's support for the ADA and suggested changes in the proposed legislation. After extensive negotiations between Senate sponsors and the Administration, the Senate passed an amended version of the ADA on September 7,1989, by a vote of 76-8.

In the House, jurisdiction over the ADA was divided among four committees, each of which conducted extensive hearings and issued detailed committee reports: the Committee on Education and Labor, the Committee on the Judiciary, the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, and the Committee on Energy and Commerce. On October 12, 1989, I testified in support of the legislation before the Committee on the Judiciary. The Civil Rights Division, on February 22,1990, provided testimony to the Committee on Small Business which, although technically without jurisdiction over the bill, conducted hearings on the legislation's impact on small business.

After extensive committee consideration and floor debate, the House of Representatives passed an amended version of the Senate bill on May 22,1990, by a vote of 403-20. After resolving their differences in conference, the Senate and House took final action on the bill - the House passing it by a vote of 377-28 on July 12,1990, and the Senate, a day later, by a vote of 91-6. The ADA was enacted into law with the President's signature at a White House ceremony on a sunny July 26,1990.

The overwhelming support for this Act demonstrates a mandate from the American people that all those with disabilities be allowed to contribute fully in the workplace and at last enter the mainstream of our society. As the parent of a child with a disability, I am heartened by this proof that our concern for those with disabilities is broadly shared.

The ADA is the culmination of a long legal campaign. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first milestone, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of handicap in federal employment (under section 501, 29 U.S.C. 791), in employment by federal contractors (section 503, 29 U.S.C. 793), and in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance (section 504, 29 U.S.C. 794). (Section 504 was later amended to extend its prohibition of discrimination to all programs and activities conducted by federal executive agencies.) Then came the Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA) two years later - Public Law 94-142 - which gave a new generation its great opportunity.

The Act established the principle of teaching children with disabilities within the nation's mainstream school systems - guaranteeing an appropriate educational placement in the least restrictive setting. In the ensuing 15 years, children with impaired vision or hearing, with mobility impairments, learning disabilities, or multiple disabilities could learn right alongside others. The generation that began its education under the EHA has had opportunities to overcome both their disabilities and the prejudices that their disabilities aroused, opportunities that too often were denied to previous generations.

And society as a whole is beginning to reap the benefits of those opportunities, as the children who grew up under the EHA begin to enter the labor market at a rate of 150,000 per year. Employers are learning that they are well-educated, well-motivated, and well along in understanding what prospects life can really hold for them. Title 1 of the ADA, by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, ensures that the investment we have made in these children, and that they have made in themselves, will not be wasted. Regulations to implement Title 1 will be issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

But the right to obtain and hold a job would be meaningless to a person who has no way of getting to the job site. Title II of the ADA addresses the need for accessible public transportation, requiring that all newly purchased busses be accessible to persons with disabilities, including those who use wheelchairs, and that supplementary paratransit services be provided for those who are unable to use accessible fixed route services. The Department of Transportation is responsible for issuing regulations to implement the transportation requirements of the ADA.

And Title III of the Act recognizes that even a paycheck is meaningless if a person has no way to spend it. None of our citizens should have to face preventable obstacles and inconviences when they go out shopping, or to the movies, or to a restaurant. Under the ADA, it will be illegal to discriminate against our citizens with disabilities in public accommodations, and architectural barriers will be prohibited in all newly constructed public accommodations and commercial facilities.

Title III will prohibit the overt denial of services to individuals with disabilities, such as the case (cited in the report of the House Education and Labor Committee) of the children with Down syndrome who were not allowed to visit a local zoo because the zookeeper was afraid they would upset the chimpanzees! It also requires public accommodations to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not denied access to goods and services because of the absence of auxiliary aids, unless their provision would cause an "undue burden," and requires removal of architectural barriers in existing public accommodations if barrier removal is "readily achievable."

The Department of justice has published for comment proposed rules to implement Title Ill of the ADA and those provisions of Title 11 applying to state and local government activities other than transportation. Copies of either or both of these regulations can be obtained from the address listed on the fact sheet. There is a 60-day public comment period during which interested individuals and groups can submit their views on the proposed regulations. These comments will be analyzed by the Department and used in the development of the final regulations, which will become effective on January 26, 1992. The Department is soliciting comments from individuals with disabilities and their friends and family members as well as from business and industry groups that may be affected, and would welcome comments from readers of this magazine.

The Department has established a new office on the Americans with Disabilities Act within the Coordination and Review Section of the Civil Rights Division, which will be responsible for development and implementation of policy and a host of the Department's responsibilities under the ADA. This new office, created expressly to address ADA implementation issues, is the clearest signal we can send of the seriousness of our commitment here at the Department of Justice to the enforcement of the ADA as a major civil rights initiative.

The ADA and the promulgation of these regulations is a major agenda item of the Civil Rights Division and one of my priority items as Attorney General. The Department of Justice accepts the responsibility for framing the ADA regulations not only as a new law enforcement obligation, but also as a momentous opportunity to help 43 million Americans with disabilities enter the mainstream of our society.
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Title Annotation:Annual Mobility Guide for Parents of Children and Adolescents
Author:Thornburgh, Richard L.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Positioning for function: wheelchairs and other assistive technologies.
Next Article:Meeting legislative challenges; educating our neighbors.

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