Improving Employment Access for Americans with Disabilities

Last July, I had the tremendous honor of kicking off the Administration’s observance of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to then welcome hundreds to the White House as President Obama commemorated that extraordinary Anniversary. It was a momentous occasion as we listened to the President’s powerful speech and witnessed the signing of his Executive Order to increase the federal government’s employment of individuals with disabilities.  As Americans, we’re imbued with those fantastic American values, embodied in the ADA, of a strong work ethic and working together to find common ground--all of which keeps us moving forward, diligently working to win the future.

Today, those American values are once again on display. With bi-partisan support, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found common ground and today made available for public viewing final Rules on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) at http://www.ofr.gov and the rule will be published tomorrow. Significantly, the EEOC considered the interests of both employees with disabilities and employers in carefully crafting regulations that will work for all stakeholders.  Now, millions of Americans with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, will be able to take one step closer to that level playing field we all seek and have the full opportunity to contribute to one of America’s greatest traditions: hard work.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. It remains a historic civil rights law designed to protect the rights and liberties of Americans with disabilities, whether that means curbing employment discrimination or ensuring accessibility on public transportation. However, in the years following the legislation’s passage, courts made a number of decisions that frustrated Congress’ intent and that severely limited the definition of disability, leaving many people with disabilities excluded from the ability to work and contribute to our country’s growth and prosperity.

In 2008, the disability community, the business community, Congress and President George W. Bush, in the spirit of the passage of the original legislation, once again came together in a show of incredible bi-partisanship, to right the wrongs of the previous 20 years. The ADAAA was passed unanimously in the Senate and by a resounding affirmative vote in the House. And, on September 25, 2008, President Bush signed into law the ADAAA, to restore Congress’ original intent regarding the scope of who would be determined to be a person with a disability.

The ADAAA sent the message to the American people that individuals with disabilities must be full and equal members of our society. With the release of the EEOC’s regulations, employers across the country will have a clear set of guidelines and rules of the road to ensure equality for Americans with disabilities. This will help ensure civil rights protection for people with “invisible disabilities.” Moreover, the EEOC’s regulations restore the original intent of Congress to cover many disabilities that had been excluded by the courts such as multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, diabetes and many others, meaning that more people will be able to reach for the American dream.

Approximately 1 out of every 6 Americans lives with a disability. And millions more have a family member or friend who lives with a disability. Thanks to a bipartisan spirit, with these EEOC regulations, millions of people will be able to successfully put their American work ethic to use helping our businesses, our governments and our schools out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the global competition to win the future.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Adviser to the President.

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