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Promises to Keep--Disability Policy Past and Future

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The following article by Senator Bob Dole on the Americans with
Disability Act appeared in the Washington Post on July 18, 1995.

	 Promises to Keep--Disability Policy Past and Future
				  by
			   Senator Bob Dole

     As we approach the 5th birthday of the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA), the future has never been brighter for people
with disabilities.  As a nation, we are increasingly committed to an
accessible society--not only our buildings and our environment, but
our hearts and minds as well.

     ADA is an important part of our nation's commitment to the full
participation of people with disabilities.  I know many in the
disability community are worried about criticism of ADA.  There have
been some crazy stories in the press, but some fair concerns as well.
In my view, thoughtful debate is always healthy--it means that people
are paying attention.  In 1973, Congress passed the Rehabilitation
Act, which required that Federally funded programs be accessible.  But
for many years little happened.  No one can say that's the case with
ADA.

     Let us remember ADA asks something of most Americans-- usually
not a lot, but sometimes a great deal.  We should expect questions and
concerns will be raised.  We must make it our job to make ADA work for
both people with and without disabilities.

     A quick tour of disability policy past and future will show how
far we have come, and the distance we have yet to go.

First Senate Speech

     Twenty-six years ago, I was elected to the U.S. Senate.  After
several months of careful thought, on April 14, 1969, I rose on the
Senate floor to give my first speech.  I spoke not just about
disability policy, but as a person with a disability.  During World
War II, on another April 14th, I was wounded in combat and joined the
disability community.

     I talked about values in disability policy--of independence,
dignity, and security.  And how society had shut out people with
disabilities: "As a minority, [people with disabilities have] always
known exclusion--maybe not exclusion from the front of the bus, but
perhaps from even climbing aboard it; maybe not exclusion from
pursuing advanced education, but perhaps from experiencing any formal
education; maybe not exclusion from day- to-day life itself, but
perhaps from an adequate opportunity to develop and contribute to his
or her fullest capacity."

Big Changes--and New Issues

     Since that first speech, there have been big changes.  Congress
has passed over a dozen laws to help promote the full participation of
people with disabilities--culminating with the ADA.

     But many gains have come from the hard work of people with
disabilities themselves.  Today, across America there are hundreds of
independent living centers and advocacy groups serving people with
disabilities.

     The issues are changing, and are, in some ways, tougher. For
example, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Federal special
education law--the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  It
was needed, and I was proud to vote for it.  It was unconscionable
that thousands of children with disabilities were barred at the
schoolhouse door.

     Although access in education remains a fundamental issue, new and
more complicated issues often dominate the debate--school violence,
competing demands on school budgets, and even allegations that
students are mislabeled as disabled for financial or other reasons.
Such complex problems often require careful analyses and good data to
address them.

     Unemployment of people with disabilities also remains a big
problem.  Despite billions spent by the Federal government over the
past decade, the job outlook for many has not improved, and is maybe
even worse.  In my first Senate speech I also said, "We in America are
far from the half-way point of assuring that every [person with a
disability] can become as active and useful as his abilities will
allow."  I believe we will reach that point only when employment among
the disabled is at least half that of people without disabilities.

The Promise of Technology

     Perhaps the most exciting avenue for progress is technology.  On
June 15, the Senate passed a sweeping telecommunications bill that
will deregulate markets and spur innovation.  We did not forget people
with disabilities.  We asked that all equipment and services consider
the needs of those with disabilities.  In my view, no group may
benefit more from this legislation than people with disabilities.

Disability Future

     The poet Archibald MacLeish once wrote, "America was always
promises."  There is still much work to do, but never have America's
promises been within closer reach for people with disabilities.


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