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U.S. Justice Department: ADA Event Remarks

  • Published: 2015-07-24 : Author: U.S. Department of Justice : Contact:
  • Synopsis: Remarks at U.S. Justice Department Event Commemorating 25th Anniversary of The Americans With Disabilities Act.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Vanita Gupta, and Steven M. Dettelbach Remarks from U.S. Justice Department Event Commemorating 25th Anniversary of The Americans With Disabilities Act

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks At Justice Department Event Commemorating The 25th Anniversary Of The Americans With Disabilities Act

Thank you, Rebecca [Bond], for those kind words - and for your dedicated and passionate leadership of the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division. I want to thank the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the United States Access Board for coming together today to make this important event possible and for their extraordinary work to promote the equality and advance the fundamental freedoms that every Americans deserves. I would also like to recognize former Senator [Tom] Harkin, former Senator [Bob] Dole and Representative [Steny] Hoyer, three longtime champions of fairness, justice and opportunity, who are here to help us observe this milestone and commemorate a quarter-century of progress. Senator Harkin was the chief Senate sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and delivered part of his introduction speech in sign language so that his deaf brother could understand. Senator, you helped all of us see that the individual concerns of those with disabilities are really the universal concerns of our country and our conscience. Senator Dole helped lead the negotiations for passage. Senator, in this and so many ways you displayed the statesmanship and leadership that has your tenure so often cited today as the example of the golden age of bipartisanship in the Senate. It is an exceptional honor today to see individuals who shaped the ADA's vital protections 25 years ago joining so many others who have lifted up its legacy and held onto its promise ever since.

It's such a pleasure to be a part of this celebration, as well as a privilege to join so many distinguished public servants, devoted partners, inspiring colleagues and good friends as we mark the 25th anniversary of a seminal triumph in this country's ongoing fight for the civil rights of all Americans. Over the course of those 25 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act has proved to be a revolutionary tool for improving the lives of Americans with disabilities, as well as a powerful force pushing this nation closer to its highest ideals. By prohibiting discrimination and ensuring opportunity, the ADA has opened doors and brought dreams within reach. It has made our workforce stronger and our society more inclusive. And it has enhanced our nation's understanding and recognition of all that Americans with disabilities can achieve when they are given nothing more - and nothing less - than an opportunity to contribute on equal terms.

I am proud to say that the Department of Justice has been a leader in enforcing the ADA's protections - and in realizing its promise - since its earliest days. In the first decade after the ADA was enacted, the Justice Department took aggressive action on a range of fronts, rooting out discrimination and tearing down barriers that had always been unjust, but were now a violation federal law. From ensuring that deaf Americans could receive full access to health care, to accommodating young people with disabilities in child care programs; and from taking on HIV/AIDS discrimination, to opening the 1996 Olympics to fans with disabilities, the Justice Department was dedicated from the start to ensuring that every American - from any background or circumstance - would be afforded a fair and equal chance to pursue their own happiness.

Our commitment endures to this day and burns stronger than ever. In 2009, President Obama launched the "Year of Community Living," and called for an administration-wide effort to identify ways to improve access to housing, community supports and independent living arrangements for older people and people with disabilities. At the Department of Justice, we have been vigorously enforcing the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Olmstead - which held that the ADA requires states to eliminate unnecessary institutionalization and segregation of Americans with disabilities so that they can receive health-care services in their homes, in their communities and in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. Over the course of the Obama Administration, we have participated in 50 Olmstead matters spanning 25 states. And we have reached comprehensive Olmstead agreements with eight states, which have collectively allowed more than 46,000 Americans with disabilities to leave institutional care or to avoid it entirely.

The Civil Rights Division is also placing special emphasis on expanding access to educational opportunities and ending a school-to-prison pipeline that is disproportionately filled with children of color and children with disabilities. In Georgia, we have challenged the segregation of students with behavioral disabilities. In Texas, we are investigating disability issues in the juvenile justice system. In Rhode Island, we have entered into groundbreaking settlements to help prepare more students with intellectual and developmental disabilities for employment after high school. And across the country, we are working to ensure that students with disabilities - whether they require the use of service animals, or have chronic conditions like diabetes, HIV, hepatitis B or mental illness - aren't excluded, segregated or otherwise limited in their pursuit of the high-quality education that is their right.

These are only a few examples of the Justice Department's ADA enforcement activity, which includes efforts as wide-ranging as combating discriminatory employment practices and helping police respond to mental health crises. We take our responsibility to Americans with disabilities seriously, because we believe enforcing the ADA is a vital component of our core mission - not only as a department, but as a nation. After all, as we've seen throughout our history, America is a stronger country when we harness the energy, the enthusiasm and the talents of every citizen - regardless of who they are, what they look like, or what their disability status may be. Our Union is made more perfect whenever we stand up and speak out for the core values - of diversity, inclusion and equality - that have always lit the way forward. And our society is made fundamentally more just - and more equal - when we strive to broaden the circle of opportunity to include everyone with the will and the determination to forge their own path forward.

That is why we will not waver - and we must not yield - until all Americans are afforded the dignity, the respect and the opportunities they deserve. It's why, despite all that we have accomplished over the past quarter-century, we know that our work is far from over. And it's why, right here today, we must redouble our efforts and recommit ourselves to confronting the lingering obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from fulfilling their personal and professional potential - from discrimination, to inaccessibility, to restrictive education and employment opportunities.

That work will not be easy and we will not meet our goals overnight. But as I look out over this crowd of passionate advocates and dedicated public servants, I cannot help but feel optimistic about where your steadfast leadership and your tireless work, will lead us in the days and years to come. I am honored to stand with you in this effort. I look forward to all that we will accomplish together. And I urge each of you to keep up the outstanding work.

Head Of Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks At Justice Department Event Commemorating The 25th Anniversary Of The Americans With Disabilities Act

Thank you, Rebecca, for that introduction.

I also want to take a moment to recognize some of our great colleagues in disability rights work:

Stuart Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General here at the Department of Justice. Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services. Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin at the Department of Education's Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And Linda Ford, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Federal Transit Administration

Today, we come together to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the journey of the past 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the heroes, leaders, activists and people of good will who came together to make that journey possible. The ADA was, as Senator Tom Harkin famously said on the Senate floor, the Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities.

The ADA proclaimed our commitment to the highest values of this country - freedom, equal opportunity and fairness for all.

Through the ADA, we proclaimed that we, as a country, do not accept the traditional fears, stereotypes, and prejudices that have so restricted the lives of people with disabilities.

We proclaimed that we will not accept a society where people with disabilities are segregated, institutionalized and excluded from our communities.

We proclaimed that we will not accept a world where people with disabilities cannot contribute their skills and talents to the economy and benefit from those contributions with a fair wage.

We proclaimed that no aspect of American life will be off limits to people with disabilities - not employment, not transportation, not marriage and family, not civic participation or civic leadership, not health care, not education, not housing, and not shopping, dining or traveling.

We proclaimed that we - all Americans - do not accept the low expectations of the past.

President Lyndon B. Johnson's words upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ring equally true for the ADA - "This civil rights act is a challenge to all of us - to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts - to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country."

Over the last 25 years, we as a country, have accepted that challenge and undertaken the hard work of changing our attitudes about disability, of tearing down the physical and attitudinal barriers to equality, and of dismantling the systems that have historically excluded people with disabilities.

We at the Civil Rights Division have been proud partners in this work. Our cases and technical assistance have reflected the high standards and broad scope of the ADA. Our work just this month reflects our commitment.

To ensure that people with disabilities have access to all the programs, services and activities of their local communities, we have reached four Project Civic Access settlements this month - that makes 218 Project Civic Access settlements so far. To address the prejudices and stereotypes we have seen leading child welfare systems to tear apart families just because a parent has a disability, we, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, will be releasing technical assistance on the rights of parents with disabilities in child welfare systems. To continue to challenge unnecessary segregation in all the systems where it occurs, we released a letter of findings determining that the segregated Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support school system violates the Olmstead integration mandate of the ADA by unnecessarily segregating students with behavioral disabilities - that is one of the 50 Olmstead matters we have pursued in 25 states since 2009 and one of the 35 education matters we have pursued since 2010. To ensure people with disabilities have full access to medical care, we, along with our US Attorney partners, reached four settlements under our Barrier Free Healthcare Initiative - that makes nearly 40 Barrier Free Health Care Initiative settlements since the project began in 2012. To challenge employment discrimination, we reached an agreement with the University of Michigan requiring them to reassign employees with disabilities to vacant positions when their disabilities prevent them from continuing to perform their current jobs. And we reached a settlement with Carnival Corporation to make 62 cruise ships accessible on its Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line brands.

Today, we celebrate how far we've come.

But today we also proclaim these principles again. We will not stop

Until every child with a disability can dream the same dreams as children without disabilities - and follow those dreams to reality. Until every person with a disability can pursue a life of work, family, community and civic participation. And until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question.

Today, I am honored to celebrate with all of you. But I am even more honored to stand with you, to work with you, and to fight with you to ensure that the progress of the past 25 years toward freedom, equality and fairness for people with disabilities continues.

It is now my great honor to introduce Chai Feldblum, a Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As Legislative Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union from 1988 to 1991, Commissioner Feldblum played a leading role in helping to draft and negotiate the ADA. Later, she was instrumental in drafting and negotiating passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

Commissioner Feldblum was nominated to the EEOC in 2010, and since then she has continued to lead the federal government in its implementation and enforcement of the ADA.

Today, the Civil Rights Division and the EEOC announce that we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding employment discrimination charges against state and local governments under the ADA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The EEOC receives and investigates charges of discrimination against state and local governmental employers and, if it finds cause to believe that an ADA or GINA violation has occurred, attempts to conciliate those charges.

The Department of Justice is the sole federal entity that has authority to sue state and local government employers for violations of the ADA and GINA.

Therefore, if conciliation is unsuccessful, EEOC refers the charge to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division.

U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach Of The Northern District Of Ohio Delivers Remarks At Justice Department Event Commemorating The 25th Anniversary Of The Americans With Disabilities Act

Thank you for that kind introduction, Rebecca (Bond, Disability Rights Section Chief).

As a Chair of the Civil Rights Subcommittee of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee (AGAC), I'm proud to be here representing the 93 U.S.Attorney's Offices around the nation as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I am even prouder to be recognizing the ADA with my former AGAC Chair and current boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose personal leadership on civil rights issues at this department dates back to her days as line assistant in Brooklyn. I experienced that leadership firsthand, through her successful push to engage the U.S.Attorneys to be more active and involved than ever in civil rights enforcement in the last six years.

It is also my honor to be here on the stage with my friend Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division, who is taking ADA enforcement and our partnership to new heights and with Senator Dole and Congressman Hoyer, who helped shepherd this groundbreaking bill through the halls of Congress.

And as a husband to a former staffer, but more importantly as an American, I would be remiss if I did not say a special word to a man whose career long drive made today possible. Senator Harkin - Thank you.

But I am deeply aware that the real genius and bravery leading this movement did not come from people like those of us up here on the stage today. It came from people like you.

The movement that led to the passage of the most comprehensive civil rights law of our time, the ADA, was and is a grassroots movement, sparked by vital leadership. I honor those heroes in the audience today who fought 25 years ago so that people all across the nation could benefit from these civil rights protections today. It was not easy, but when hurdle after hurdle was erected and when door after door was blocked, quite literally, you never gave up.

And you are still not giving up. So many of you here today and our brothers and sisters across the country are fighting the critical fights to enforce this important law on behalf of all the people of our nation. My orders, on behalf of this Attorney General and this President are to be there at your side and to work in partnership with the Civil Rights Division in aggressively enforcing the ADA's broad provisions.

We have accomplished much - some cases grabbing headlines but many others just making life better for one family at a time. Over the past six years, U.S. Attorney's offices across the country working with the Civil Rights Division have enjoyed a renewed emphasis on civil rights enforcement, including the ADA.

Each day, in some ways like a local legal services office, our teams discover problems firsthand. We take calls and complaints from people in the community who can't get into our local restaurants or movie theaters because the owner hasn't removed the steps that block the entrance, or have difficulty communicating with a doctor at a local hospital because the hospital does not have sign language interpreters.

For example, in the Western District of Texas, the United States, private plaintiffs and the state of Texas filed an interim settlement agreement to enable hundreds of Texans with intellectual and other developmental disabilities to live in the community, rather than nursing facilities, by expanding community alternatives.

And in the Northern District of Ohio, when one of our prominent snow birds, LeBron James, decided to bring his talents back home to Cleveland, we worked collaboratively with the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena to make sure everyone on the North Coast could enjoy his return, adding wheelchair spaces and companion seats, captioning the scoreboard and arena announcements and modifying websites to make it easier for blind patrons to buy tickets.

So from hotels in Manhattan to lecture halls in Alabama, U.S. Attorneys' continue their dedication to meaningful enforcement of the ADA in venues large and small. Working with the Civil Rights Division, we pledge to be your local access points to lasting equality.

So on today's anniversary, congratulations for your leadership on the ADA's 25th anniversary. And as for tomorrow, why don't you give us a call - so we can all get right back to work.

Thank you.

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