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Americans vith disabilities Act (Houston, TX)

Donald x. Payn. (Page 14, 15)

August 28, 1989

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Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to be here with you and Mr. Bartlett today to hear testimony from persons whom we all consider to be experts in the area of civil rights for disabled persons. As a member of the Subcommittee on Select Education, I would like to thank our witnesses for attending, and add a congratulatory note to the city of Houston for coming out in support for this legislation.

Twenty-five years ago, Congress gave America a vehicle that changed the course of history. With the passage of the civil Rights Act of 1964, America could, for the first time, honestly proclain justice and morality as the cornerstones of its democracy. Today we take another step towards securing the foundation of liberty.

are charged with the task of making the critical decisions that determine the quality of life for the majority, it is also our duty to protect the rights of the minority -- those who society has defined by their disabilities; yet whose abilities we know have no bounds. As representatives of all the people, we must not build hurdles that further imperil their future by failing to enact this legislation. But, we must affirm unanimous and unconditional support for this civil rights bill for disabled citizens. We stand at the threshold of infinite opportunities, and must, therefore, become proactive, not reactive.

As a beneficiary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, I understand the legacy that comes with an appreciation for the human condition and the sharing of a common destiny. As an African-American, I have learned never to be intimidated because one is in the minority on an issue which you know to be correct. Though the will of the majority may seem to prevail, circumstances occur that forge a special alliance among those who have suffered an injustice. It is a lesson that I repeat to you here today, it is a lesson that I shall never forget.

Victory is often won by a coalition bound by a commitment to a vision. Even in the most painful instances, we have seen ordinary people rise to become a catalyst for extraordinary movements. An illiterate slave named Frederick Douglas learned to read and write and became a world acclaimed poet, orator and statesman. A poor Alabama seamstress named Rosa Parks fueled the civil rights movement by her desire for simple justice. And, a small group of unrelenting warriors captured the hearts and minds of the nation by bringing disability rights and Gallaudet University to the front pages of the world's press. Their courage inspired us, and their strong wills now challenge the 101st Congress.

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As members of this Congress, our collective mission, then, is to serve their interest; our covenant is to fight for their access to equality. Our goal is to create a mutually supportive partnership with government, the private sector, labor and the courts to empower with full rights and privileges-- the nation's disabled community. And our pledge is to deliver to those citizens a nation that can truly proclain - liberty and justice for all." Thank you.

Mr. OWENS. Thank you, Mr. Payne.

Our first panel consists of the Honorable Kathryn J. Whitmire, the Mayor of the City of Houston; Dr. Nikki R. Van Hightower, the treasurer of Harris County; Dr. Melody Ellis, the President of the Board of Education of the Houston Independent School District.

Please be seated.

Your Honor, we understand that you have a time problem so we will take your testimony and maybe ask you a few questions, and allow you to leave at that point. I did try to come over to shake your hand because I wanted to shake the hands of one of the leg. endary mayors of America, but your constituency had called you out just as I arrived to shake your hand. You had to go away. But I do want to acknowledge the fact that we are pleased that you have taken time out to come to this hearing and you may proceed. STATEMENT OF KATHRYN J. WHITMIRE, MAYOR, CITY OF

HOUSTON Ms. WHITMIRE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to give you a very warm welcome to our city on behalf of the citizens, and also to welcome Mr. Payne and Mr. Bartlett, who is a very good friend of ours from our neighboring city to the north. We are all very pleased that you have chosen to hold this hearing in our community, and I am especially proud that the deliberations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1989 are taking place in the City of Houston in a city facility whose primary purpose is to serve the disabled community of Houston.

I want to tell you just a little bit about this facility. We call it the Metropolitan Multiservice Center, and it was opened just about a year ago to serve the disabled community in our city. And it cur. rently houses 18 organizations serving the disabled. Included amongst them are the Texas Head Injury Foundation, the Houston Chapter; the Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Association; Greater Houston Athletic Association for the Physically Disabled; Texas Rehabilitation Commission; Houston Council for the Blind; and numerous other organizations that serve the disabled community in this city.

We felt that this would be a step forward to provide this city facility as a focal point for serving the needs of the disabled in this city. I believe that the City of Houston has recognized the significant value of the disabled community in this city and has taken some steps to see that disabled people in Houston have equal opportunities.

Within city government, when we passed the Affirmative Action Program for Equal Employment and Equal Oppor.unity, we included, of course, the disabled community in the provision of that ordinance, and we feel that that affirmative action program has served to benefit the City of Houston, because it has encouraged our various city departments and organizations to employ the very capable disabled individuals within our community.

As a result of that ordinance, we have provided special telephone receivers for hearing-impaired employees, and special equipment for visually-impaired employees, and have in some cases made schedule changes to meet the needs of the disabled employees. We

believe that not only are we taking some steps to provide employment opportunities, but even more importantly, we are availing ourselves of some very hard working employees who serve the community very well and we are very proud of that fact.

We have given some attention to the needs for independent living, the needs for a barrier-free environment, which I must has not been an easy assignment. However, in 1986, our city council did vote to amend our building codes so that newly constructed buildings in this city would be accessible to the disabled.

We feel that much work is obviously left to be done in this regard, but I believe that this community is committed to the creation of a barrier-free environment for our disabled community. We think this is going to be one of the more difficult parts of achieving our commitment to the disabled community.

I should mention also the important role that our police department and fire department have played in this city in trying to provide better services to the disabled community; specifically, programs developed within our police department to better serve the hearing-impaired community. The telephone systems that have been installed in our dispatching units to also serve the hearing impaired community, we believe, have improved the emergency services provided to those citizens and the two teletype machines installed at our fire alarm building to assist the hearing impaired have furthered that cause as well.

A little bit later you will be hearing from Bob Lanier, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, about the significant steps that Metro is taking to deal with the very important transportation needs of the disabled community.

I would sum up our believe that we need to provide opportunities for the disabled community in this city, and we hope that the legislation that we are sure you will adopt this year will have as its focus the need for opportunity and the recognition of the tremendous value to society that is provided by the disabled community.

In spite of the work that our city has done and that a number of other cities have done, I know you are familiar with the Census Bureau report showing that full-time employment amongst the disabled community is declining. And we are extremely concerned about that fact, and look forward to the steps that you are going to take to recommend to us and to other cities across the nation further efforts that we might make to see that more members of the disabled community do have the opportunity for full-time gainful employment, because I think that that is the bottom line when it comes to having a high quality life in a barrier-free environment is that opportunity for employment.

Again, I appreciate your coming to Houston to hold hearings on this very important legislation. As you can see, there is tremendous interest in this community in the work that you have undertaken, and we thank you for your commitment, and welcome you to our city.

Mr. OWENS. Thank you Mayor Whitmire. And I wonder if you could take just one brief question from each one of us.

Ms. WHITMIRE. Certainly.

Mr. OWENS. I would like to thank you for your very positive statement on behalf of yourself. But I wonder, can you, as a leader among the mayors of America, make any statement about their po sition as a group? I have heard grumblings that certain municipalities are very opposed to some of the things that we have in this bill. I would like a statement from you, if that is possible, concerning how the majority of your colleagues see this.

Ms. WHITMIRE. Well, in my role as President of the United States Conference of Mayors, I can report to you that our conference has adopted resolutions in support of civil rights legislation that would provide for opportunities for the disabled. And I think that you will find that my colleagues across America are generally very sensitive to the needs for these opportunities to be provided and supportive of your steps to adopt legislation.

Mr. OWENS. Thank you very much.
Mr. Bartlett?
Mr. BARTLETT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As a fellow Texan and also as a Dallasite, I want to welcome personally the mayor that I consider to be one of the two best mayors in the State of Texas.

Mayor, I want to ask you just one question and also make at least one comment which I plan to ask Bob Lanier later.

The question is, could you elaborate for me on the City of Houston's ordinance against discrimination of persons with disabilities?

Does it only apply to city government or do you also extend that to contractors with the city, or does it also extend to the private sector?

Ms. WHITMIRE. The ordinance that we have adopted is a part of our city affirmative action ordinance, and it is aimed at municipal employment. It does not regulate the private sector.

Nr. BARTLETT. So it only provides for municipal employment.
Ms. WHITMIRE. That is correct.
Mr. BARTLETT. Has it worked pretty well?

Ms. WHITMIRE. We felt that it has worked. We have a number of disabled employees who are currently working for the City of Houston and doing a very good job. And we feel that having that ordinance on the books has helped us increase that effort.

Mr. BARTLETT. What remedy generally does a person have if they feel they have been discriminated against for employment purposes in the City of Houston? Other than calling you at home, what other steps?

Ms. WHITMIRE. Of course.

Well, actually, as a part of my office, I have an Affirmative Action Division of the Mayor's Office which hears complaints or grievances from any employee who has felt that they have been discriminated against under the affirmative action ordinance, and that does include disabled employees.

We do try to resolve those grievances internally since they are reported to my office and all of the various departments have their accountability to my office as well.

Mr. BARTLETT. So it's a resolution of matters that attempts to resolve the issues

Ms. WHITMIRE. That is correct.

Mr. BARTLETT. Also, I am going to ask this of Bob Lanier when he comes later. One of the issues in both the Senate and the House bill will be whether to expand the requirements of Section 504 for

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