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George W. Bush's "New Freedom Initiative"

 

AP coverage:

"Bush Proposes More Aid for Disabled"

By Glen Johnson, Portland, Maine, AP

With the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaching, George W. Bush proposed spending $880 million over five years for telecommuting, technology development and job access to help the disabled. The Republican presidential contender, speaking Thursday at a company that specializes in helping the disabled, said: ``People with disabilities confront hardship every day of their lives. To me that leaves our society with a simple choice: Whether to add to that hardship or to try to lessen it.''

In particular, Bush's ``New Freedom Initiative'' would:

-Triple funding for research into independent living; a dollar figure was not immediately available.

-Change the Section 8 rental housing program so the disabled can use a year's worth of rental vouchers for a home down payment and future mortgage payments.

-Create a $20 million matching fund for companies to buy telecommuting equipment such as computers and modems for disabled employees.

-Create a $5 million fund to provide technical assistance for small businesses that face financial burdens in complying with the disabilities act.

The landmark legislation gave civil rights protections to the disabled and mandated equal access to the workplace and most common public and recreational areas. It was signed on July 26, 1990, by President Bush, the Texas governor's father. ``I support the ADA, and I'm really proud that it was my father's signature that made the law become real,'' Bush told his audience at Alpha One. In addition to nonprofit work, the organization runs
a storefront that sells wheelchairs and - highlighting the changing attitudes of the disabled - an array of competitive sports gear for the handicapped."

via email:

"Governor George W. Bush
New Freedom Initiative"
Thursday, June 15, 2000

Note-The Governor frequently deviates from text 

Thank you. Its good to be here, and I want to thank Alpha One for hosting  me today. Your work has made a difference for so many people. The last several decades have brought great changes in the lives of Americans with disabilities. And all of us have gained a clearer understanding of the whole range of disabilities. Old misconceptions are being discredited. Old attitudes are slowly passing away, old barriers falling away. Our goal now  is clear: to speed up the day when our country has removed the last barrier to full, independent, productive lives for every person, with or without disability. This goal follows very naturally from the most basic American ideals: Equal treatment under law. Opportunity for all. Respect for the dignity and rights of every person. That is more than our creed as a nation. It is, to paraphrase Lincoln, our responsibility as citizens - our duty as brothers and sisters of a common country. America today is blessed with so many opportunities to strive and serve and succeed. All that citizens with disabilities ask is a chance to use their own gifts, and to make their own contribution. Many doors were opened ten years ago, when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. I support the ADA, and I am very proud that my fathers signature made it the law of the land. 

Because of the ADA, discrimination against a person with a disability is not just unkind or cruel or wrong: It is an infringement of federal law, and a violation of civil rights.

Because of the ADA, millions of Americans can now compete for jobs once denied them; enter buildings once closed to them; travel in buses and trains once unequipped for them. For those who are blind or deaf, for those who use walkers or wheelchairs, or have mental retardation or mental illness, we have become a more hospitable society. Ten years after the ADA became law, we are a better country for it.But the banning of discrimination is just the beginning of full participation. Barriers remain. There are steps we can and should take to remove these barriers.  In that spirit, I am proposing today a New Freedom Initiative to ensure that all Americans with disabilities, whether young or old, have every chance to pursue the American dream - to use more of their own skills, and make more of their own choices. We must do everything we can to ensure that more Americans with disabilities can live independently, hold jobs, and take part in the life of  their communities. My administration will act in three specific areas.

First, we will promote independent living. As you know, the wonders of technology are nowhere more gratefully received than among those who have disabilities. In millions of lives, assistive technology is helping to defeat dependence and frustration and isolation: Text telephones for the deaf. Computer monitors with Braille display for the blind. Infrared pointers for people who can't use their hands - allowing them to use a computer by pointing at functions on the monitor or keyboard. Special software to help people with mental retardation learn how to read and write. Lighter wheelchairs and artificial limbs. My administration will be a champion of assistive technology and universal design principles. Through Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers, the federal government is a leader on assistive technology research. We will make this research a higher priority, and we will triple the current funding. In addition, there are several thousand small businesses that have innovative ideas for assistive technology, but lack the means to bring them to market. So we will form a technology transfer fund to enable these firms to bring promising technology to the people who need it.  Thousands of people who require assistive technology cannot afford it. Alpha One was among the first to address this challenge, by working with banks and the state of Maine to arrange affordable financing for those in need. Congress has also recognized this problem by creating a low-interest loan program for those in need. My administration will increase by tenfold the resources available for this program.  Education is another key to independent living. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education that meets their needs. I support the I.D.E.A. and its goals. And in meeting those goals, the federal government must pay its fair share. Independent living should also include greater opportunities for homeownership. To provide such opportunities, well reform the section eight rental program. For the first time, a section eight recipient who has a disability will be able 
to use up to a years worth of rental vouchers to finance the down payment on a home of their own, and continue using vouchers to pay the mortgage.

Second, we will help citizens with disabilities to claim their rightful place in the workforce. Under the ADA, workplaces are less forbidding than they once were. Every day, millions of Americans with disabilities travel miles from home to work at full-time jobs. For others, this is impossible - and until recently, few alternatives were available to them.  All this is changing. Today more than 40 million Americans work out of their homes during all or most of the week, plugged into the company network by telephone, fax, and computer. For families across America, this change has brought great convenience and flexibility. But for those with disabilities, its nothing less than a revolution - opening a world of new opportunities and potential.  As with assistive technology, sometimes the last limitation is simple affordability. To overcome it, my administration will create an Access to Telecommuting Fund. We will spend 20 million dollars in federal matching funds to enable Americans with disabilities to buy computers and other equipment necessary to telecommute.  I will ask Congress to change the tax treatment of computers and Internet access supplied by employers for use in the home. Making these a tax-free benefit will supply an added incentive to hire employees with disabilities who telecommute.  To create even more work opportunities, I will issue an executive order to fully and swiftly implement the recently-passed "Ticket-to-Work" law. As it is, many people with disabilities are reluctant to take a job, even a telecommuting job, for fear of losing their disability benefits and health coverage. This is a choice they should not be forced to make. 

Third, we will help Americans with disabilities to gain fuller access to community life. Every law depends on good faith in observance, and consistency in enforcement. The fact is that some requirements of ADA have yet to be fulfilled. This is especially true for people who face mental illness and mental retardation.  In the Olmstead case last year, the Supreme Court ruled that, wherever possible, persons with mental illness are entitled to live in the "most integrated" community settings rather than in institutions. This ruling, however, has not been completely carried out. As president, as I have as Governor, I will sign an executive order committing my administration to the implementation of the Olmstead decision. 

I am committed to fully enforcing the ADA. And to extend compliance even further, we will devote an additional five million dollars per year for technical assistance to small businesses to meet all requirements of the law. We must remember that many activities of civic life are still difficult for people with disabilities. Even voting can be a hardship for them, as also for the elderly. I will work with Congress to make polling places and the voting process easier for seniors and those with disabilities. 

We can also assist organizations that, while exempt from the ADA, are trying to observe it anyway. Most notable are churches, synagogues, and mosques, which want nothing more than to open their doors to all. Often, they just don't have the money. This has left many Americans with disabilities unable to worship alongside their families and neighbors. Also left out are those who would like to be active in clubs and community groups. How can they feel welcome if they cant even enter the building? 

My administration will seek $10 million each year to aid religious and civic groups in making their facilities more accessible. Over time, this will help make ramps and elevators even more common - a sign not only of more accessible buildings, but of a more welcoming society. 

Next month, we mark Independence Day. A few weeks later, on July 26th, comes the tenth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For many across America, that day in 1990 is remembered as a personal independence day - the day the law recognized their rights and full standing as citizens of the United States.

 People with disabilities confront hardship every day of their lives. To me, that leaves our society with a simple choice - whether to add to that hardship, or to try to lessen it. Whether to answer that challenge with indifference, or with generosity of spirit. 

With ADA, we gave our answer. We set for ourselves a permanent standard to live by, and to govern by. I make this pledge today: in my administration we will honor that standard. We will not tolerate unfair barriers or unfair treatment for Americans with physical or mental disabilities. We will press on, until everyone has a chance to contribute - until every citizen shares in the full promise of American life."

 

 

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