Thirty-one years ago this week, on July 26, 1990, the United States moved one step closer to creating a nation where all people are equal with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits all forms of discrimination against people with disabilities, protects individuals in a number of areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications, as well as ensures equal access to state and local government programs and services.
To celebrate this landmark law, which impacts the lives of an estimated 61 million Americans living with a disability, affirming and protecting their fundamental rights to equal opportunity, economic self-sufficiency, independent living and equitable access to all parts of American life, President Joe Biden released a presidential proclamation marking the anniversary of the ADA.
“I was enormously proud to co-sponsor the ADA, the passage of which was a testament not only to fearless advocacy but to bipartisan progress,” President Biden said in a statement marking the occasion. “A Democratic bill signed by a Republican President [George H. W. Bush], the ADA was made possible thanks in no small part to the passion and persistence of Senators Tom Harkin and Ted Kennedy and Congressmen Major Owens and Tony Coelho.”
Biden also highlighted a moment during the ADA’s passage when Senator Harkin gave a speech using American Sign Language — a tribute to his deaf older brother Frank. “That moment was an emotional reminder for all of us of just how personal and powerful the passage of the ADA would be for millions of American families,” Biden said.
In his presidential proclamation, Biden also noted that “despite the extraordinary progress we have made over the past 31 years, the fight for equitable access and inclusion is far from over.” Biden specifically cited how the COVID-19 pandemic had compounded the “longstanding inequities and biases that exist for people with disabilities” and the “persistent discrimination and the inability to access [healthcare] services.”
“Throughout [COVID-19], people with disabilities have faced heightened risks — particularly those who lack access to caregiver or support services, those who live in community homes, and the disproportionate share of people with disabilities employed in industries that suffered due to the pandemic,” Biden said. “Children and students living with disabilities have also faced an especially challenging year, forced to navigate and adapt to online learning as the virus upended their usual school routines.”
Biden pledged to help fight those issues with programs like the American Rescue Plan and his ongoing Build Back Better agenda while reiterating the nation’s ongoing efforts to protect and support those living with disabilities.
“My Administration is committed to advancing the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace to support economic self-sufficiency,” he said. “I have proposed eliminating outdated provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows employers to pay workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage. My proposal includes funding this transition with $2 billion to expand access to competitive, integrated employment opportunities for workers with disabilities. In addition, I am committed to making the Federal Government a model employer — including for people with disabilities — to set the gold standard for how best to support inclusion and provide appropriate accommodations. To that end, I recently signed an Executive Order to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the Federal Workforce — a pledge to lead by example to promote economic stability and good-paying jobs for Americans with disabilities.”
Summarizing his ongoing efforts, which include commitments to diversity and inclusion he issued in his first days in the White House, Biden encouraged all executives, businesses and private citizens to continue supporting and uplifting all Americans, including those from different minority groups, the disabled, LGBTQ individuals and others.
“As we celebrate the monumental legacy of the ADA, we recommit ourselves today to upholding and strengthening its protections — and continuing to advance equity, dignity, access, and inclusion together with the disability community as we build our Nation back better,” Biden said.