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July 21 — A top goal 25 years after enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act remains “competitive, integrated employment” for people with disabilities at jobs paying more than a subminimum wage, former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said July 21.
Speaking at a Labor Department ceremony marking the ADA's 25th anniversary, Harkin said although sheltered workshops at one time might have been a useful “way station” for workers with disabilities, too many got stuck in jobs paying less than the minimum wage while receiving no training for advancement to better positions.
Under the DOL's “Employment First” initiative, the new “default position” for those with disabilities is having jobs in integrated workplaces paying full wages and offering opportunities for advancement, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said at the event, part of the department's monthlong celebration of the landmark federal civil rights law, which was signed on July 26, 1990.
The ADA's future “can be encapsulated in three words: jobs, jobs, and jobs,” said Harkin, a principal sponsor of the legislation. “We've got to stop limiting people because of disability.”
A federal regulation mandating that information technology platforms be accessible to all, including persons with disabilities, would be one important step to opening more opportunities, Harkin said. “The ADA covers IT, no doubt about it,” he said.
Since the information technology sector is an area of job growth, Harkin said, it's critical that persons with disabilities not be excluded from information technology jobs because of inaccessible platforms. “I think it holds a lot of promise for persons with disabilities,” he said.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) also spoke at the event. While chair of the bipartisan National Governors Association in 2012-2013, Markell made employment of persons with disabilities his “chair's initiative.”
Disability is an issue that “cuts across every boundary,” including partisanship, Markell said. He said he forged alliances with Republicans, including North Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, in encouraging state and local governments to partner with the private sector to recruit, train, hire and advance persons with disabilities.
Businesses that hire persons with disabilities often find them to be their most productive workers and see improved bottom lines, Markell said. “This is not about charity or doing the right thing, this is about doing the right thing for your business.”
On July 22, the Labor Department will issue a letter promoting its “Employment First” initiative, signed by Perez, Markell and Daugaard, Perez said.
President Barack Obama hosted a July 20 White House event to mark the 25th anniversary of the ADA's signing.
A White House statement issued July 20 listed additional steps federal agencies are taking to advance the ADA's goals of improving the lives of and expanding opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Among other things, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department July 23 will sign a memorandum of understanding to streamline their coordination of disability bias complaint investigations, the administration said. The EEOC and Justice also will increase their collaboration on guidance, outreach and training on disability discrimination issues.
Also by July 23, the EEOC, in consultation with the Labor Department and the Office of Personnel Management, will have revised all “Schedule A” brochures that inform federal agencies and job applicants on how to use Schedule A hiring authority for persons with disabilities in federal employment, the White House said.
Within the next few months, the EEOC expects to issue a proposed rule to amend its regulations under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires federal agencies to engage in affirmative action for employing persons with disabilities.
The EEOC and the U.S. Census Bureau soon will be launching new direct video communication pilot projects to allow deaf and hard of hearing individuals to contact federal customer service representatives and to respond to surveys in American Sign Language rather than through a third-party interpreter, the administration said.
The Smithsonian Museum of American History will host a 25th ADA Anniversary Festival July 24-26 at which federal agency representatives will offer educational insights about the law, speak about employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and discuss the history of the disability rights movement.
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