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Public Statements

20th Anniversary of Enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KERRY. Madam President, my friend Senator Tom Harkin has been championing the rights of Americans with disabilities his whole life. He witnessed the challenges and discriminations of people with disabilities first hand. His brother Frank lost his hearing at a very young age and he has witnessed the many ways that people with disabilities are prevented from fully participating in activities that most Americans take for granted.

Senator Harkin has said that the 1990 signing of his bill, Americans with Disabilities Act remains one of the proudest days of his life. The vote I cast for Americans with Disabilities Act was one of my proudest days as a U.S. Senator.

This month will mark two decades since the landmark passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA. This important civil rights law seeks to ensure equality rights and opportunities for the more than 54 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities.

Prior to the passage of the ADA, people with disabilities faced significantly lower employment rates, lower graduation rates, and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities, and were too often denied the opportunity to fully participate in society due to intolerance and unfair stereotypes.

The ADA sought to eliminate the indignities and prejudice faced by individuals with disabilities on a daily basis. Before passage of this law, individuals with disabilities were prevented from attending schools, subject to discriminatory hiring practices, and were unable to enter public buildings, safely cross a street, or ride a public bus.

On July 26, 1990, the ADA was signed into law signed into law by President George H.W. Bush with the promise of fostering full and equal access to civic, economic and social life for individuals with disabilities.

Upon its passage Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who played an important role in the enactment of this legislation, said:

The act has the potential to become one of the great civil rights laws of our generation. This legislation is a bill of rights for the disabled, and America will be a better and fairer nation because of it.

Indeed, over the last 20 years, the ADA has become one of our country's most important and treasured civil rights laws.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and telecommunications, as well as federal, state and local government programs.

It has been a critical part of our efforts to fulfill the Nation's goals of equality of opportunity, independent living, economic self-sufficiency, and full participation for Americans with disabilities.

It has played an historic role in allowing over 50 million Americans with disabilities to participate more fully in national life by removing barriers to employment, transportation, public services, telecommunications, and public accommodations.

Specifically, it prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and it requires that State and local governmental entities accommodate qualified individuals with disabilities. Because of the ADA, places of public accommodation must take reasonable steps to make their goods and services accessible to individuals with disabilities. And new trains and buses must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

All Americans, not just those with disabilities, benefit from the accommodations that have become commonplace since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act like curb cuts at street intersections, ramps for access to buildings, greater access to public transportation, stadiums, telecommunications, voting machines, and Web sites benefit all Americans.

The ADA has been one of the most significant and effective civil rights laws passed by Congress. We have come a long way in the 20 years since enactment with of the ADA, but children and adults with disabilities continue to experience barriers that interfere with their full participation in mainstream American life.

People with disabilities are still twice as likely to live in poverty as their fellow citizens and continue to experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. And many people with disabilities still live in segregated institutional settings because of a lack of support services that would allow them to live in the community.

While technology and the Internet have broken down barriers, new technologies are still not accessible to all Americans. I have cosponsored the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act by Senator Mark Pryor to improve internet technology access for the blind and deaf communities. If passed, this legislation would make it easier for deaf and hard of hearing Americans to access the same technologies that hearing people take for granted. In particular, it would require all devices to be capable of captioning video and it would require all Internet videos to be captioned. No one should be or has to be excluded from modern communications and the new economy because of a disability.

For all these reasons, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting Senator Harkin's Senate resolution that recognizes and honors the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This resolution not only honors passage of the ADA, it also pledges to continue to work on a bipartisan basis to identify and address the remaining barriers that undermine the Nation's goals of equality of opportunity, independent living, economic self-sufficiency, and full participation for Americans with disabilities.


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