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We at the Department of Justice wholeheartedly share the goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act and commit ourselves to an effective program of enforcement of the act's provisions. We have begun the process of analyzing the Department's specific responsibilities under the bill and pledge that our enforcement effort will be fair and vigorous and that our technical assistance program will be thorough, creative, and cost-effective. In addition, the Department of Justice is currently reviewing the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on its resources and organizational structure.
As a parent, as a former Governor, and as Attorney General, I have witnessed the many faces of discrimination confronting persons with disabilities. About 40 million people in this country are disabled by reason of some physical or mental handicapping condition.
The mere existence of these handicapping conditions does not, for many of these individuals, prevent them from interacting freely with others in society, or from performing the same tasks that others perform on a daily basis.
But persons with disabilities are all too often not allowed to participate because of stereotypical notions held by others in societynotions that have, in large measure, been created by ignorance and maintained by fear.
It is precisely these sorts of antiquated attitudes that have blocked people with disabilities from entering the mainstream of American life. Certainly attitudinal changes cannot be simply commanded or even legislated out of existence. No particular court order or single piece of legislation can alone change longstanding perceptions or misperceptions; regrettably, attitudes can only be reshaped gradually. One of the keys to this reshaping process, however, is to increase contact between and among people with disabilities and their more able-bodied peers. And an essential component of that effort is the enactment of a comprehensive law that promotes the integration of people with disabilities into our communities, schools and work places.
Mr. Chairman, the Americans with Disabilities Act can be the vehicle that brings persons with disabilities into the mainstream of American life. We have a historic opportunity to move legislation through the Congress given the broad support for its purpose.
On behalf of the administration, I pledge to this committee and to the Congress our support to produce a bill that can be signed
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. EDWARDS (presiding). Thank you very much, Mr. Attorney General.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Thornburgh follows:]
PREPARED STATEMENT OF DICK THORNBURGH, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA
Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee, it is a great pleasure for me to be able to present to you th Administration's views on the proposed Americans with Disabilities Act. It is exciting to be a part of a process which, this year, will see the passage of legislation that will extend the Nation's civil rights guarantees to Americans with disabilities. Persons with disabilities have already made
enormous contributions to American society, and can and will
contribute even more as legislation goes forward in this Congress to increase their access into the social and economic painstream of American life. We want America to be an opportunity society for all Americans, and that requires taking actions to make opportunities available to Americans with disabilities.
Despite the best efforts of all levels of government and the private sector and the tireless efforts of concerned citizens and advocates everywhere, many persons with disabilities in this Nation still lead their lives in an intolerable state of isolation and dependence. over fifteen years have gone by since the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 conferred on Federal and federally assisted programs the responsibility to accommodate Americans vith disabilities. In that time, the doors of opportunity have been opened to persons with disabilities. Nevertheless, persons with disabilities are still too often shut out of the economic
and social mainstream of American life. The unreasonable and, in most cases, unthinking failure to eliminate attitudinal, architectural, and communications barriers in employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and
telecommunications denies persons with disabilities an equal
opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the richness of American society. The continued maintenance of these barriers imposes staggering economic and social costs and inhibits our
sincere and substantial Federal commitment to the education,
rehabilitation, and employment of persons with disabilities.
elimination of these barriers will enable society to benefit from
the skills and talents of per
ns with disabilities and will
enable persons with disabilities to lead more productive lives.
On June 22, 1989, I testified on the Americans with
Disabilities Act before the Senate Committee on Labor and Human
At that time, the Administration endorsed the concept
of comprehensive legislation in the disability rights area and viewed s. 933, the Senate analogue to H.R. 2273, as the appropriate vehicle for such landmark legislation. My testimony did, however, raise areas of concern that needed to be addressed before the Administration could specifically endorse the Americans with disabilities Act. During this past summer, representatives of the Administration engaged in prolonged negotiations with the Senate on this bill. These discussions led to revisions in s. 933 and eventually to the bill that passed the Senate on September 7, 1989, with broad bipartisan support.
I am therefore pleased to reiterate the Administration's
support of the Americans with disabilities Act.
This bill is
fair, balanced legislation. It will ensure that persons with disabilities in this country enjoy access to the mainstream of American life. It builds on an extensive body of statutos, case law, and regulations to avoid unnecessary confusion; it allows maximum flexibility for compliance; and it does not place undue burdens on Americans who must comply. The Administration asks that you consider the Americans with Disabilities Act expeditiously and the Administration hopes that the bill will be signed into law before the end of this year.
President Bush has consistently supported efforts to bring persons with disabilities into the mainstream of American society. As Vice President, he stated that we must develop programs and policies that promote independence, freedom of choice, and productive involvement in our social and economic mainstrean. This means access to education, jobs, public accommodations, public services, and public transportation - in other words, full participation in and access to all aspects of society. This year, in his remarks to the Joint Session of Congress, the President reiterated this commitment.
We believe that s. 933, successfully incorporates the
It provides an effective means of combating
discrimination and yet gives latitude to employers, public
accommodations, and other entities covered by the bill to allow
them the flexibility to achieve compliance without placing an undue burden on their operations.
The comprehensive scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act will fill serious gaps in the patchwork quilt of existing Federal laws protecting disabled persons. Perhaps the most glaring gap in the fabric of existing disability rights laws is
that there is little in the Federal law that prohibits
discrimination in employment in the private sector against those
While persons who work for the Federal
Government, who work in federally assisted programs, or who work
for certain Federal contractors are protected from discrimination
on the basis of handicap, most other workers are not.
in this country, over 150,000 young men and women with
disabilities complete their education under the Education of the Handicapped Act, some receiving high school diplomas, some receiving certificates of completion. This education law has
been one of our modern success stories in the disability area.
But if our investment in the education of these students is to
bear fruit, we must ensure that they face a labor market
similarly free of discrimination on the basis of handicap.
The Americans with disabilities Act wisely parallels in the disability area title VII of the civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark statute that prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. The