Today, on the 32nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrate the inclusion and access promoted by this landmark civil rights law for disabled Americans. Grounded in four core outcomes of full participation, equal opportunity, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations, employment, transportation, and community living and provides recourse for people with disabilities who faced discrimination. The nation has made significant progress since the law was signed, but there is more work to do to live up to the promise of the ADA.
Today, President Biden signed a proclamation marking the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Vice President Harris is meeting with advocates from the disability community. Vice President Harris and advocates will discuss reproductive rights and the impact the overturning of Roe v. Wade will have on people with disabilities.
Over the past year the Biden-Harris Administration has taken additional steps to build on our record of advancing equity for Americans with disabilities.
Expanding Competitive Integrated Employment Opportunities
- People with disabilities experience higher rates of unemployment, they receive only a fraction of the minimum wage or market salary for performing the same work, and many are segregated away from traditional work. This month the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and the Social Security Administration will issue a joint memorandum identifying all available resources to help state and local government agencies, employers, and non-profit organizations make it easier for individuals with disabilities to successfully obtain and engage in competitive integrated employment. The guidance will encourage these entities to, where possible, mix and match resources such as funding sources, staff supports, and equipment from different agencies.
- Section 511 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act limit employers’ ability to pay less than minimum wages to workers with disabilities. To help disabled workers understand their rights under federal law and to ensure employers comply with those requirements and do not discriminate, the Department of Labor published a Field Assistance Bulletin in June 2022 on when the Department of Labor can—and will—enforce these laws against employers.
Ensuring Access to Educational Programs and Supportive Services
- The American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided more than $3 billion to fund the Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) formula grants so that all 50 states, Tribes, and territories could help more children with disabilities recover from the pandemic and succeed in the classroom. In addition, through the FY22 Omnibus, President Biden secured an additional $14.5 billion to support the education of students with disabilities, including $13.3 billion for Part B grants to states to support school-aged children with disabilities and $905 million for grants to support early childhood intervention services.
- Expanded school-based health services. Funding from the ARP is increasing student access to school-based health services, including mental health services. To date, the number of school social workers has increased by 53% and the number of counselors by 18% since the years before the pandemic. In addition, to ensure young people with disabilities, including those with developmental delays, receive the supportive services they need, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services issued joint recommendations in June 2022 for improving collaboration and coordination between education and public health officials to meet the socio-emotional development and mental health needs of young children, as well as the needs of their families, from the prenatal period through age 5.
- Helped schools fulfill their responsibility to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The Department of Education released two guidance documents and a resource guide on how to avoid discriminatory school discipline on students with disabilities.
Securing Access to High-Quality, Affordable Health Care
- Improved Equitable Access to Health Care. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) invested $150 million in ARP funding in disability and aging networks to expand the capacity of state and local public health systems to meet the needs of people with disabilities and older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. HHS deployed innovative approaches to help people with disabilities and older adults get their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, such as in-home options, accessible vaccination sites, transportation supports, and mobile vaccination units. The Health Resources and Services Administration has distributed more than six million N95 masks and nearly 7 million at-home self-test kits, of which 31% were given to older adults and/or individuals with disabilities. In June 2022, the Administration launched an initiative to provide more than 2 million free accessible at-home COVID-19 tests nationwide for people who are blind or have low vision.
- Increased Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Funding. To ensure people with disabilities receive the care they need, President Biden’s ARP temporarily increased Medicaid funding for home and community-based services (HCBS). Every state elected to participate in this program and has submitted a detailed plan for how they will use these funds. The administration estimates that this change will ultimately result in $25 billion in increased funding, allowing states to develop innovative ways to address existing HCBS workforce and structural issues, expand the capacity of critical services, and begin to meet the needs of people with disabilities, family caregivers, and providers. In June 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services notified states that they now have an additional year — through March 31, 2025 — to use funding made available by the ARP.
- Strengthening the Home Care Workforce. One in eight Medicaid enrollees (or about 11 million Americans) is an individual with disabilities. In order to live independently, many people with disabilities require home care. During the pandemic, 38 states reported that at least one Medicaid home care provider permanently closed during the pandemic, hindering people with disabilities from accessing services they need to live independently. This fall, HHS, in collaboration with the Department of Labor, will launch a technical assistance center to help states and communities leverage existing federal funding opportunities to increase the number of home care workers.
- Combatting Long COVID. In April 2022, the President issued a Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate a new whole-of-government approach to prevent, detect, and treat Long COVID. HHS will produce two reports as a result: one that provides the first-ever interagency national research action plan on Long COVID; and a second that outlines services and supports across federal agencies to assist people experiencing Long COVID, individuals who are dealing with a COVID-related loss, and people who are experiencing mental health and substance use issues related to the pandemic.
Expanding Access to Affordable Housing, Transportation, and Broadband
- Investing in accessible transportation. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) provides funds to improve accessibility for all riders on U.S. rail systems. Today, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is announcing the first $343 million of $1.75 billion that will be awarded to transit agencies this year to make it easier for people to get on board at the nation’s oldest rail public transportation systems. The funding will help agencies retrofit subway stations so people who need an elevator, escalator, or ramp – including people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility – can reliably access the rail systems serving their communities.
- Launched a new Housing and Services Resource Center. In December 2021, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services launched a new joint Housing and Services Resource Center (HSRC) for people who provide housing resources and homelessness services, behavioral and mental health services, independent living services and other supportive services to help people with disabilities and older adults live independently in the community.
- Expanded Broadband Access. Sixty-nine percent of people with disabilities who live just above the federal poverty threshold and over 66% of those who live below that threshold do not have internet access in their homes despite the internet being a vital platform for people with disabilities. BIL provides $14.2 billion to develop a robust, longer-term broadband affordability program. The Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is providing a discount on broadband services and connected devices to households with incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines ($27,180 for a family of 1).
Ensure Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in the Federal Government and Enforce the Civil Rights of People with Disabilities
- Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the federal workforce. Executive Order (EO) 14035 on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in the Federal Workforce launched a whole-of-government initiative to cultivate a diverse federal workforce and expand its scope to include equity and accessibility. To deliver upon the Administration’s DEIA strategic plan, in March 2022, federal agencies finalized key steps they will take to strengthen their workforce policies, practices, and culture to be more accessible for people with disabilities, such as improving the accessibility of their websites, enhancing technological access and supports for employees with disabilities, and fostering relationships with universities and institutions who work specifically with underserved communities, including people with disabilities.
- Improving Airport Accessibility and Implementing A Historic Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights. In 2021, the GAO reported that within one single year airline passengers with disabilities lodged 30,000 complaints, citing lack of accessibility at airports and on planes, customer service challenges, and lack of information on disability-related travel concerns. The Biden Administration is addressing these issues in two concrete and immediate ways. First, earlier this month, the FAA announced the first $1 billion in competitive airport terminal awards from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Accessibility enhancements were a key feature of terminal project improvements with 73 of the 85 airports’ terminal projects containing an element that provides greater access to individuals with disabilities. Second, the Department of Transportation (DOT), in response to and in collaboration with disabled people, recently developed the Airline Passengers with Disabilities Bill of Rights. This landmark document will empower air travelers with disabilities to understand and assert their rights by laying out information on seating accommodations, assistance with accessing key functional areas of the terminal, and timely resolution of any disability-related issues through the intervention of a Complaint Resolution Official who should be trained and able to resolve the disability-related issue immediately. In addition, the Bill of Rights reiterates that passengers with disabilities who are not satisfied with air travel services may file a complaint with the airline or DOT for resolution. DOT could impose sanctions and require the airline to take remedial action to prevent future violations.
Protect and Strengthen Economic Security for People with Disabilities
- Raised Wages for Federal Contractors to $15 per hour. AbilityOne is a federal procurement program that creates employment opportunities for people who are blind or have other significant disabilities to manufacture products and provide services to the Federal government. Under existing law since 1938, many AbilityOne contractors have been able to pay less than the minimum wage to their workers with disabilities.As a result of President Biden’s Executive Order 13658, after January 2022, contractors are required to pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour for workers performing work on or in connection with covered federal contracts. In July, AbilityOne published a final rule that codifies the wage protections of the EO and expands those protections to cover product contracts as well.
- Promoting Equitable Access to Unemployment Compensation Programs. With funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Department of Labor issued guidance to states regarding $260 million available in grants for activities that promote equitable access to unemployment insurance systems, including among people with disabilities. To date, the department has announced more than $85 million in awards to 17 states and the District of Columbia, with more awards on the way.
Advance Global Disability Rights
- Advancing disability-inclusive development and humanitarian action around the world. As a part of the Global Disability Summit (GDS), USAID committed to concrete actions to support disabled people, including disability inclusion and equity as a cross-cutting requirement of all humanitarian assistance programming, strengthening disability data and evidence for education programming, utilizing best practices and standards, championing disability-inclusive climate action, and supporting disabled persons organizations to respond to the underlying causes of inequality that are worsened by humanitarian emergencies.
Increasing Access to Democracy for Voters with Disabilities.
- Executive Order 14019 on Voting Access, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published a report about the challenges facing voters with disabilities, which addressed feedback provided by stakeholders from disability rights advocates to voting technology vendors. The NIST report identified 24 recommendations to reduce systemic barriers; enhance voter registration; increase the accessibility of the National Mail Voter Registration Form, vote-by-mail, and in-person voting technology; increase polling location accessibility; and improve poll worker training.