Today, I had the pleasure of delivering remarks at the White House observance of the 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1990, America took a bold step forward when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. This law was based on the fundamental principle that Americans with disabilities should have the same basic rights and opportunities as everyone else, and it established America as a world leader on disability rights.
From the day he took office, President Obama has sought to extend this legacy and fight for Americans with disabilities. He championed the Affordable Care Act, so insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime or restrictive annual dollar limits on coverage. And, beginning in 2014, no one will be denied insurance based on a preexisting condition or charged more based on health status or gender. More than 5 million Americans with disabilities and senior citizens on Medicare have already received an average of over $600 to help pay for prescription drugs, and in 2014 30 million people who do not have insurance will be able to obtain it.
We’ve ramped up our enforcement of the landmark ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., in which the Supreme Court ruled that, under the ADA, the institutional isolation of people with disabilities was a form of unlawful discrimination. Our efforts have led the Department of Justice to intervene in more than 40 Olmstead matters in 25 states. Thanks to this work, thousands of people now live in their communities.
Because we believe in an America where everybody gets an equal shot at success. Many will remember President Obama standing on the South Lawn on the 20th anniversary of the ADA where he signed an Executive Order calling on the Federal government to set an example with the expanded hiring of Americans with disabilities. The President said then: “Equal access. Equal opportunity. The freedom to make our lives what we will. These aren’t principles that belong to any one group or any one political party. They are common principles. They are American principles. No matter who we are – young, old, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled or not – these are the principles we cherish as citizens of the United States of America.”
Just yesterday, the Office of Personnel Management released a report on the progress the Federal government has made toward our goal of being a model employer of people with disabilities. I’m proud to say that the report showed some good news. In FY 2011, the Federal government hired nearly 19,000 people with disabilities, representing 14.7 percent of all new hires.That’s up from 10.3 percent in 2010! In total, more than 200,000 people with disabilities now work for the Federal government. But while we’re thrilled to celebrate the progress we have achieved, we all know that we can do better. The fight for justice is far from complete. And we’re going to continue to make the hiring of Americans with disabilities a high priority.
President Obama is proud of the progress we’ve made. But he’s not satisfied, either. We still have work to do on all aspects of disability policy, and the President is ready to take on that fight.
Unfortunately, the Republicans in Congress have offered a budget that reflects a different direction. The Ryan budget would make drastic cuts to Medicaid services, scientific research, integrated accessible housing, emergency preparedness, and numerous other key programs. The President doesn’t believe Americans with disabilities, or anyone in our country, can afford those priorities. So, he is going to keep fighting right alongside Americans with disabilities, their families, friends, and all those who believe in equality and fairness so that we can realize a more just and equal tomorrow.
Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement.