Happy Birthday ADA!

This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the ADA is the most important civil rights law for Americans with disabilities.  The ADA has increased physical access to all kinds of stores, government buildings, and offices.  In the work place, we are seeing more people who have disabilities working alongside their colleagues who do not have disabilities.  At large conferences, it is routine now to see interpreters for the deaf and hard of hearing and Braille documents for people who are blind or have visual impairments.

For people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), the ADA has meant having the right to receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate.  Many people with I/DD have been able to leave large, segregated institutions and move into homes in communities.  We have seen a huge increase in home and community-based services and a steady decline in the number of people living in institutions over the past 23 years.

But, we still have more to do.  Too many people are on long waiting lists for community-based services and supports and are at risk of having to go into an institution.  Too many people who want a home of their own are still living in large congregate settings.  And, too many people with I/DD are living in nursing homes.  Far too many individuals with disabilities want to work but are unemployed.

While many barriers to full participation in society remain, let’s take a minute to celebrate the many positive changes that have been brought about by the ADA!

Here’s what some people and groups are saying about the ADA on this anniversary:

All Aboard an Opportunity to Make America’s Railways More Accessible

Amtrak Train

Photo by Drew Jacksich

On the brink of the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we celebrate the work of advocates like you who have made progress in your communities on so many issues. While train stations and platforms are more accessible, there is still a lot of work to be done.  The problem isn’t your enthusiasm, or tenacity, or will – the problem is Amtrak and our antiquated rail system.  Amtrak was given 20 years to comply with ADA regulations, and they have yet to reach their promise of reaching full accessibility standards.  So The National Disability Rights Network and the nationwide network of Protection and Advocacy agencies for people with disabilities is going to be holding a week of action on Amtrak, and we need your help!

As we approach this historic anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many Protection and Advocacy agencies and other advocates for people with disabilities will be visiting Amtrak and commuter rail stations across the country to record and report as many accessibility problems as we can.  We need you to start to help us during the week of July 21-27, the week of the 23rd anniversary of the ADA.  Please take some time during this week to visit a local train station.  While there, please take pictures, and fill out the survey to help NDRN determine whether the train station is accessible to people with disabilities. All findings can then be emailed to: trainweek@ndrn.org.

The Arc Reacts to Historic Verdict on Behalf of Workers with Intellectual Disabilities

Washington, DC – Earlier this week a Davenport, Iowa jury awarded damages totaling $240 million to 32 men with intellectual and developmental disabilities who worked for Henry’s Turkey Service in Atalissa for decades.  It was the largest verdict in the history of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed the case, for disability discrimination and unlawful harassment.  Just one day after hearing closing arguments, the jury agreed with the EEOC that Henry’s Turkey Service subjected the men to severe harassment and discrimination that warranted punitive and compensatory damages for each man.

“While this verdict is a victory for the workers who can feel triumph knowing that the abuse they faced did not go unpunished, it’s also a harsh reminder to the disability movement that we must continue to be vigilant in this modern era of progressive employment practices to guard against these kinds of atrocities.  The abuse of these men didn’t end decades ago – it was still going on as recently as 2009, and that is unacceptable.  I applaud the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for their pursuit of justice for people with disabilities in the workplace and urge them to continue this important work. Individuals with disabilities have the right to work in a safe work environment free of exploitation, and this verdict sends a message that this kind of abuse will not be tolerated,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

Last year, EEOC claimed that Henry’s Turkey Service violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by paying 32 workers with intellectual disabilities severely substandard wages.  The company denied the workers their full wages by claiming a “credit” for substandard living conditions.  In September 2012, a district court judge ordered the company to pay its former employees a total of $1.3 million for jobs they performed at a turkey processing plant in West Liberty, Iowa between 2007 and 2009 for about 41 cents an hour.  Combining last year’s ruling and this week’s verdict, the total judgment in this case is $241.3 million.

The Arc Applauds Appointment of Disability Champion Tom Perez as U.S. Secretary of Labor

Washington, DC – The Arc, the largest civil rights organization for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), applauds President Obama’s nomination of Tom Perez, the current head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, as the next U.S. Secretary of Labor.

“Tom Perez has been a champion for people with disabilities throughout his career, and we are pleased that he has been nominated for a post that plays a critical role in employment for people whom The Arc represents.  We are thrilled that he steps into this important position with a wide breadth of knowledge regarding people with I/DD, and we look forward to his confirmation and to working with him in his new role,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

In 2012, The Arc and the five other disability organizations that host the annual Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, DC presented Perez with their prestigious Leadership in Disability Policy Award for his aggressive enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s “integration mandate” and the Olmstead decision.  Just since 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been involved in several cases that will result in major transformations of states’ delivery of long term services and supports to people with disabilities.  In each of these cases, people with disabilities were living in segregated settings or at risk of being institutionalized while they could be living in more integrated community settings.  Due to Perez’s tireless work, thousands of people with disabilities will be able to leave institutional settings or avoid ever having to enter an institution, and will be able to participate more fully in their communities.

“Tom Perez has set a high bar at the Department of Justice for the enforcement of the laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities to be a part of their community.  We appreciate his tremendous efforts and look forward to working with him at the Department of Labor to further the employment of people with disabilities,” said Berns.

The Arc Celebrates the 22nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Washington, DC – Today, The Arc joins with advocates across the country to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This landmark civil rights law was created to eliminate discrimination against people based on their disabilities.  Members of The Arc’s national staff joined administration officials, including Senior Advisor to the President Valerie B. Jarrett, at the White House this morning to commemorate the signing of this historic law.

Valerie Jarrett

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, speaks at the ADA commemoration

“As we celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we must acknowledge the millions of advocates who made this law possible.  Members of The Arc have spent the last 60 years working to promote full inclusion and equality for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but our work is far from over.  Today, we look back on the many accomplishments of the last 22 years as we continue to work toward a future free of discrimination,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc.

The ADA protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, privately operated public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, etc.), transportation, and telecommunications.  A person with a disability, as defined by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major bodily functions or major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is regarded as having an impairment.

The ADA’s integration mandate has helped many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) leave institutions and move to community based settings.  However, there are still many individuals living in nursing homes and other types of institutional settings who could and who want to live in more integrated settings.

The Arc Celebrates the 21st Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Washington DC – The Arc of the United States today celebrates the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark civil rights law was created to eliminate discrimination against people based on their disabilities.

“Today serves as a reminder to us of not only how far we have come in the last 21 years, but of how much there is still left to do,” said Peter V. Berns, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc. “The ADA has empowered millions of individuals with disabilities over the last two decades, yet there is still much discrimination facing individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This anniversary should serve as a call to action – our work will not be complete until there is full inclusion and equality for individuals with disabilities.”

The ADA protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, privately operated public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, stores, museums, etc.), transportation, and telecommunications. A person with a disability, as defined by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major bodily functions or major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is regarded as having an impairment.

The ADA’s integration mandate has helped many individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) leave institutions and move to community based settings. However, there are still many individuals living in nursing homes and other types of institutional settings who could and who want to live in more integrated settings.

The Arc advocates for and serves people with I/DD, including Down syndrome, autism, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, cerebral palsy and other diagnoses. The Arc has a network of over 700 chapters across the country promoting and protecting the human rights of people with I/DD and actively supporting their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes and without regard to diagnosis.