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Public Statements

Recognizing 20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H. Res. 1504, a resolution recognizing and honoring the 20th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I am proud to cosponsor this important legislation, introduced by the distinguished Majority Leader (Mr. Hoyer).

On July 26, 1990, upon signing this landmark civil rights law, President George H. W. Bush stated that the ADA ``promises to open up all aspects of American life to individuals with disabilities--employment opportunities, government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.'' As we celebrate 20 years since its enactment, we have an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the ADA.

The ADA has helped to expand and enhance opportunities for over 50 million Americans with disabilities by removing barriers to employment and essential services. Thanks to the public accommodations required by the ADA, individuals with disabilities are able to more fully participate in our society, and to enjoy the freedom that comes with independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

Congress included transportation-specific requirements in the 1990 Act because accessible transportation services ensure that all Americans with disabilities can enjoy extraordinary freedom of mobility. Without reliable transportation, many individuals with disabilities would not be able to access the significant public accommodation improvements that have occurred in cities and towns across the country as a result of the ADA. Specifically, the ADA required public transit systems, passenger rail systems, and over-the-road bus operators to modify their vehicles and facilities to make them accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Congress set an aggressive timeline for public transit vehicles and facilities to achieve ADA compliance. One month after enactment of the ADA, all new trains and buses were required to be constructed as fully ADA compliant; any refurbishing of buses or trains that took place one month after enactment had to include ADA retrofits. Three years after enactment, all readily achievable key subway, commuter rail, and light rail station alterations were to be completed in order to bring these systems into substantial compliance with the ADA. As of today, every single key transit station is required to have been retrofitted to be in full compliance with ADA.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has been vigilant in its oversight of the implementation of the transportation requirements of the ADA. The majority of our nation's public transit systems have met their ADA requirements. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), only 36 percent of transit buses in urban areas were ADA compliant in 1989, but that number rose to 97 percent in 2005, and is closer to 100 percent today. While this marks good progress, more needs to be done to ensure that any public transit systems that are not fully accessible are brought into compliance as soon as possible.

In the 110th Congress, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure advanced H.R. 3985, the ``Over-the-Road Bus Transportation Accessibility Act of 2007'' to ensure that motorcoach accessibility regulations promulgated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 1998 were being implemented. DOT had failed to enforce its own regulations for a decade, based on an interpretation that any enforcement must be carried out by the Department of Justice. However, the Department of Justice does not conduct vehicle inspections and did not have a mechanism to identify operators who were out of compliance. H.R. 3985, which was signed by the President on July 30, 2008, closed this loophole and prohibited DOT from granting registration authority to a motorcoach company who is not willing and able to comply with the accessibility regulations and gave DOT express enforcement authority.

In the 110th Congress, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure also advanced legislation to help Amtrak, our national passenger railroad, to come into compliance with the ADA. The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (Public Law

[Page: H5994]

110-432) required Amtrak to conduct an evaluation of the condition of Amtrak's stations and its plan for making them readily accessible and usable by persons with disabilities and fully compliant with the ADA. The law also authorized funding for Amtrak to improve the accessibility of facilities, including rail platforms and services, and required the Federal Railroad Administration to monitor and conduct periodic reviews of Amtrak's compliance with the ADA.

In FY 2008, Amtrak provided intercity passenger rail service to a record number of 28.7 million passengers across 46 States over a 21,095 mile network owned by freight railroads, commuter railroads, governmental authorities, and Amtrak. Amtrak provided service to 515 stations; 481 of those stations are required to be ADA-compliant by July 26, 2010. In 2008, however, Amtrak announced that it would not be able to meet the legislative deadline for compliance with the ADA. Instead, the railroad presented a plan for coming into compliance over the next five years, and has requested additional funds to implement this plan for FY 2010 and again this year. Since releasing that plan, however, Amtrak has determined that funding may not be the main source of concern. Rather, Amtrak continues to face challenges in defining what work is necessary to comply with the ADA and in forming work agreements with its partners--the freight railroads, commuter railroads, and governmental authorities--at each station, some of which Amtrak does not own. As Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee I find this news distressing, and I intend to hold a hearing this fall to determine what is blocking Amtrak from coming into full compliance with the ADA.

Finally, in 2008, this body passed H.R. 3195, a bill to restore protections for a wide range of individuals with disabilities (such as those with epilepsy, diabetes and cancer) by overturning judicial decisions that had narrowed the scope of the ADA as intended by Congress. I was pleased that the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure played a role in shepherding these important amendments through the House, which were signed by the President on September 25, 2008.

The modifications made by Congress since 1990 have strengthened the original Act. We must continue to aggressively monitor the implementation of the ADA and subsequent amendments to ensure that all Americans are granted access and equality under the law.

I commend the distinguished Majority Leader for his tireless work over the last 20 years on behalf of Americans with disabilities, and I urge my colleagues to support H. Res. 1504.


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