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Public Statements

20th Anniversary Of Enactment Of The Americans With Disabilities Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise to highlight the significance of the many events and announcements occurring around the country to celebrate the enactment of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. This week in Wisconsin, disability advocates are holding multiple events around the State to commemorate the signing of the law on July 26, 1990, at a White House ceremony by President George H.W. Bush.

Disability advocates, employers, State and local officials, and policymakers are speaking about and reflecting on how they have worked together and joined forces during the last two decades to make major changes in housing, in transportation, and in health and social services.

There is much discussion in the news and online about the ADA as well. In an online video entitled ``We Came Together: Wisconsin Reflects on the ADA's 20th Anniversary,'' one Wisconsin disability rights advocate, Dick Pomo, observes that ``disability today is simply a fact of life--not a way of life.'' This statement is testament to the hard work of millions of Americans who have come together over the last several decades, and who have journeyed to State capitals and Washington, DC, to deliver the message that they wanted to participate fully in society. Simply put, they did not take ``no'' for an answer.

I am also reminded that in the Senate the ADA is one of the legacies of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, with whom I worked to see that this civil rights bill became the law of the land. The House of Representatives experienced a milestone this week when Representative Jim Langevin of Rhode Island was able to preside over the House because the Speaker's rostrum--a raised platform--had been made wheelchair accessible. This is a wonderful and public symbol of accessibility, a core principle of the ADA.

There are many other concrete, visible gains: kneeling buses, sidewalks and driveways with curb cuts, crosswalks with traffic lights that make audible noises to signal when it is safe to walk, and elevators and ramps that have been artfully worked into the structure of new buildings and even many historic ones. For all this and much more, I salute the tirelessness and tenacity of disability advocates across the country who have joined forces to make American society far more open and accessible to all.

As chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, I know that many of these changes will also be of enormous benefit to our now rapidly aging society. Equally important are a series of changes that are now transforming the way health and social services are delivered to those with lifelong disabilities, as well as to older Americans whose disabilities are age related.

One such key program, known as Money Follows the Person, is a Medicaid demonstration initiative in which Wisconsin has participated since 2003. This program allows States to transition beneficiaries in nursing homes to community-based living situations if they wish to do so. Funds are used for various purposes--for example, for ramps, clothes, equipment and furniture. In Wisconsin, funds have been used to reduce the number of nursing facility beds and to track spending on long-term care services and supports on an individual level. The State has also applied for additional funding under the health reform law's expansion of Money Follows the Person, which is slated to provide $2.25 billion in new funding through 2016.

Another program that has been central to Wisconsin's growing success in making long-term services both more available and more focused on each person's individual needs is its Aging and Disability Resource Center initiative. State officials started ADRCs in 1998 in 8 of the State's 72 counties, and they have been gradually spreading and opening in new counties ever since. The goal is to have a statewide network of ADRCs in place by 2012, operated either by county government or nonprofit organizations. Often called the ``front door'' of long-term care, ADRCs are charged with serving all State residents by providing them with unbiased, comprehensive information about what services and options are available to them, and, where appropriate, with eligibility and enrollment information for the Medicaid Family Care managed long-term care program.

I am pleased that the Obama administration has made ADRCs--which were pioneered in Wisconsin--an important part of their efforts to make long-term services and supports a much more well-defined and well-understood part of our health care system. This is consistent with the intent and language of the ADA, and also with the Supreme Court's Olmstead v. L.C. decision of a decade ago, asserting that involuntary institutionalization of people with disabilities was discriminatory under the ADA. I commend U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for her efforts to engage States in the complex and critical tasks of improving the availability of community-based long-term services and supports, while simultaneously improving the quality and accountability of services that are provided in nursing homes.

One of my constituents recently shared with me a story that demonstrates both how important the ADA has been to people with disabilities, and also how far we still have to work toward a more inclusive and accessible society. Steve Verriden has been a quadriplegic for 35 years, the result of a dive into a lake when he was just 23 years old. Following his life-changing accident, he spent years in a nursing home before he was able to use a community integration waiver to transition to home-based assistance. With his new independence, Steve was also able to go back to school to complete a degree in journalism.

Steve has experienced how the ADA has changed the lives of people with disabilities, literally opening doors that were before inaccessible to people in wheelchairs and with severe disabilities. As Steve transitioned out of facility living and returned to school before the ADA was passed, he knows what it was like to have to wait in the cold for someone to open a door for him, hope the classes he needed to take would be offered on a wheelchair-accessible building, and rely on friends to drive him and his wheelchair around before kneeling buses came along. Steve has since worked with an Independent Living Center, recruiting and helping people with disabilities transition from nursing homes back into the community, and sharing his personal insights with others in order to help them live more fulfilling and independent lives.

At the ADA's 20-year mark, it is clear that while we have accomplished a great deal, much change still lies ahead. The Aging Committee will continue to monitor implementation of health care reform initiatives that are designed to improve the quality of life for older adults, and will examine and explore new best practices and other efforts that can create better services, housing, and employment opportunities for the millions of Americans with disabilities.

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