Excerpts from hearing testimony:
Richard L. (“Dick”) Thornburgh
Former Governor of Pennsylvania Former Attorney General of the United States
“The ADA has been good for people with disabilities but, more important, it has been good for America, helping to fulfill the promise inherent in our democratic ideals. And, best of all, according to a nationwide NOD/Harris survey, nearly nine out of ten American adults aware of the ADA approve of the Act.
“Many challenges remain, to be sure. Too many Americans still fail to appreciate the essence of the discrimination that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. Many Americans still don’t see barriers to full inclusion– whether based on architecture, or attitudes. Many Americans still remain trapped by society’s stereotypes about disability. Many Americans still think the barriers faced by people with disabilities stem primarily from their disabilities – not from what we as a society have erected.
“It is essential too that we better educate people with disabilities about their rights and help them develop an expectation of equal treatment. Until recently, many people with disabilities had no choice but to internalize the exclusion and unfair treatment they experienced.
“Discrimination and unreasonable barriers were things that people with disabilities had to accept. This was doubly harmful. Not only were people with disabilities excluded from important societal activities, but they were also sent a message that such exclusion was legitimate and natural. Well, it isn’t. You know it. I know it. And now all America is learning to know it. Discrimination and exclusion are morally wrong and it is important that we make sure that people with disabilities know it is wrong and know there is something they can do about it.”
-- The Honorable Richard L. (“Dick”) Thornburgh
Former Governor of Pennsylvania
Former Attorney General of the United States
Immediate Past Board Chair American Association of People With Disabilities
“While it is obvious that the ADA has acted as a great equalizer in a variety of contexts, it is equally apparent to me that the law’s full potential has yet to be realized. The ADA, as Congress intended in its passage, creates an incentive, arising from a legal obligation, for all citizens to forge a better understanding and more proper perspective for accepting and integrating people with disabilities into all aspects of society, including the workforce. In order for that to occur and for the greatest barrier to all people with disabilities—fears, myths, and stereotypes—to be removed, we must continue down the path that we have begun with two decades of implementation of the ADA, and develop new methods to start to improve education and employment outcomes for this population.
“The employment rate of people with disabilities has not improved during the two decades since the passage of the ADA. Two-thirds of individuals with disabilities who do not have a job say they want to have one but cannot find employment. Many of those who do find employment often experience discrimination along the way—in hiring, requesting accommodations, or in unlawful terminations—on account of the same pervasive fears, myths, and stereotypes which characterized the past.
“My hope and expectation is that this Committee and your colleagues in federal, state and local government will take the opportunity afforded by the 20th anniversary of the ADA to begin a conversation with your own constituents—with the disabled people and their families who live in your districts. Ask them what barriers still exist that inhibit or prevent their full participation in society. Ask them what we can do to open wider the doors to employment, home ownership, and participation in the middle class. Ask them to get involved in your election campaigns and the day-to-day work of governing. And perhaps most importantly, when you find a person with a disability who has good ideas and a vision for how to continue down the course that we charted when we passed the ADA, take the next step and hire that person to work in your Congressional office. When the staff of this Committee and when your personal office staff truly reflects the diversity of your home districts, including representation from your citizens with disabilities, then you will have led by example and all of us will benefit from the insights that these staff will bring to the work of government.”
-- Cheryl Sensenbrenner
Immediate Past Board Chair
American Association of People With Disabilities