President Announces New Freedom Initiative
Table of Contents
My Administration is committed to tearing down the barriers to equality that
face many of the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
Eleven years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made it a
violation of federal law to discriminate against a person with a disability.
But there is much more to do. Though progress has been made in the last
decade, too many Americans with disabilities remain trapped in bureaucracies of
dependence, denied the tools they need to fully access their communities.
The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities hovers at 70 percent.
Home ownership rates are in the single digits. And Internet access for Americans
with disabilities is half that of people without disabilities.
I am committed to tearing down the remaining barriers to equality that face
Americans with disabilities today. My New Freedom Initiative will help Americans
with disabilities by increasing access to assistive technologies, expanding
educational opportunities, increasing the ability of Americans with disabilities
to integrate into the workforce, and promoting increased access into daily
I look forward to working with Congress to see these proposals become law.
Fulfilling America’s Promise to Americans
Disability is not the experience of a minority of Americans. Rather, it is an
experience that will touch most Americans at some point during their lives.
Today, there are over 54 million Americans with disabilities, a full 20
percent of the U.S. population. Almost half of these individuals have a severe
disability, affecting their ability to see, hear, walk, or perform other basic
functions of life. In addition, there are over 25 million family caregivers and
millions more who provide aid and assistance to people with disabilities.
Eleven years ago, Congress passed and President George Bush signed one of the
most significant civil rights laws since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In doing so, America opened its door to a
new age for people with disabilities. Two and a half years ago, amendments to
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were enacted ensuring that the
Federal Government would purchase electronic and information technology which is
open and accessible for people with disabilities.
Although progress has been made over the years to improve access to
employment, public accommodations, commercial facilities, information
technology, telecommunications services, housing, schools, and polling places,
significant challenges remain for Americans with disabilities in realizing the
dream of equal access to full participation in American society. Indeed, the
Harris surveys by the National Organization on Disability and numerous other
studies have highlighted these persistent obstacles.
Americans with disabilities have a lower level of
educational attainment than those without disabilities:
- One out of five adults with disabilities has not graduated from high
school, compared to less than one of ten adults without disabilities.
- National graduation rates for students who receive special education and
related services have stagnated at 27 percent for the past three years,
while rates are 75 percent for students who do not rely on special
Americans with disabilities are poorer and more likely to
be unemployed than those without disabilities:
- In 1997, over 33% of adults with disabilities lived in a household with an
annual income of less than $15,000, compared to only 12 percent of those
- Unemployment rates for working-age adults with disabilities have hovered
at the 70 percent level for at least the past 12 years, while rates are
significantly lower for working-age adults without disabilities.
Too many Americans with disabilities remain outside the
economic and social mainstream of American life:
- 71% of people without disabilities own homes, but fewer than 10% of those
with disabilities do.
- Computer usage and Internet access for people with disabilities is half
that of people without disabilities.
- People with disabilities vote at a rate that is 20 percent below voters
without disabilities. In local areas, disability issues seldom surface in
election campaigns, and inaccessible polling places often discourage
citizens with disabilities from voting.
People with disabilities want to be employed, educated, and participating,
citizens living in the community. In today’s global new economy, America must
be able to draw on the talents and creativity of all its citizens.
The Administration will work to ensure that all Americans have the
opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, choose where
to live and participate in community life. The President’s “New Freedom
Initiative” represents an important step in achieving these goals. It will
expand research in and access to assistive and universally designed
technologies, further integrate Americans with disabilities into the workforce
and help remove barriers to participation in community life.
The “New Freedom Initiative” is composed of the following
Increasing Access to Assistive and Universally Designed
- Federal Investment in Assistive Technology Research and Development. The
Administration will provide a major increase in the Rehabilitative
Engineering Research Centers’ budget for assistive technologies, create a
new fund to help bring assistive technologies to market, and better
coordinate the Federal effort in prioritizing immediate assistive and
universally designed technology needs in the disability community.
- Access to Assistive Technology. Assistive technology is often
prohibitively expensive. In order to increase access, funding for
low-interest loan programs to purchase assistive technologies will increase
Expanding Educational Opportunities for Americans with
- Increase Funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA). In return for participating in a new system of flexibility and
accountability in the use of Federal education funds, states will receive an
increase in IDEA funds for education at the local level and help in meeting
the special needs of students with disabilities.
- Focus on Reading in Early Grades. States that establish a comprehensive
reading program for students, including those with disabilities, from
preschool through second grade will be eligible for grants under President
Bush’s Reading First and Early Reading First Initiatives.
- Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce:
- Expanding Telecommuting. The Administration will provide Federal matching
funds to states to guarantee low-interest loans for individuals with
disabilities to purchase computers and other equipment necessary to telework
from home. In addition, legislation will be proposed to make a company’s
contribution of computer and Internet access for home use by employees with
disabilities a tax-free benefit.
- Swift Implementation of “Ticket to Work.” President Bush has committed
to sign an order that directs the federal agency to swiftly implement the
law giving Americans with disabilities the ability to choose their own
support services and maintain their health benefits when they return to
- Full Enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Technical
assistance will be provided to promote ADA compliance and to help small
businesses hire more people with disabilities. The Administration will also
promote the Disabled Access Credit, an incentive program created in 1990 to
assist small businesses comply with the Act.
- Innovative Transportation Solutions. Accessible transportation can be a
particularly difficult barrier for Americans with disabilities entering the
workforce. Funding will be provided for 10 pilot programs that use
innovative approaches to developing transportation plans that serve people
with disabilities. The Administration will also establish a competitive
matching grant program to promote access to alternative methods of
transportation through community-based and other providers.
Promoting Full Access to Community Life:
- Promote Homeownership for People with Disabilities. Congress recently
passed the “American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act of
2000,” which will permit recipients with disabilities to use up to a
year’s worth of vouchers to finance the down payment on a home. The
Administration will work to swiftly implement the recently enacted law.
- Swift Implementation of the Olmstead Decision. President Bush has
committed to sign an order supporting the most integrated community-based
settings for individuals with disabilities, in accordance with the Olmstead
- National Commission on Mental Health. President Bush has committed to
create a National Commission on Mental Health, which will study and make
recommendations for improving America’s mental health service delivery
system, including making recommendations on the availability and delivery of
new treatments and technologies for individuals with severe mental illness.
- Improving Access. Federal matching funds will be provided annually to
increase the accessibility of organizations that are currently exempt from
Title III of the ADA, such as churches, mosques, synagogues, and civic
organizations. The Administration also supports improving access to polling
places and ballot secrecy for people with disabilities.
The Administration’s commitment to increase access to assistive and
universally designed technologies is based upon the principle that every
American must have the opportunity to participate fully in society. In the
global new economy, America must draw on the talents and creativity of all its
Assistive and universally designed technologies can be a powerful tool for
millions of Americans with disabilities, dramatically improving one’s quality
of life and ability to engage in productive work. New technologies are opening
opportunities for even those with the most severe disabilities. For example,
some individuals with quadriplegia can now operate computers by the glance of an
eye. As the National Council on Disability (NCD) has stated, “for Americans
without disabilities, technology makes things easier. For Americans with
disabilities, technology makes things possible.”
Unfortunately, assistive and universally designed technologies are often
prohibitively expensive. In addition, innovation is being hampered by
insufficient Federal funding for and coordination of assistive technology
research and development programs.
The New Freedom Initiative will help ensure that Americans with disabilities
can access the best technologies of today and that even better technologies will
be available in the future. At the core of this effort are proposals that
reinvigorate the Federal investment in assistive technologies; improve Federal
collaboration and promote private-public partnerships; and increase access to
this technology for people with disabilities.
Summary of Proposals
Increases Federal Investment in Assistive Technology
Research and Development:
Rehabilitative Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) are recognized as
conducting some of the most innovative and high impact assistive technology
research in the Federal Government. The 15 RERCs are housed in universities and
other non-profit institutions around the country and focus on a specific area of
research – for example, information technology access, prosthetics and
orthotics, and technology for children with orthopedic disabilities. To advance
research specifically targeted to the disabilities community, the Administration
will significantly increase funding for the RERCs.
Improves Coordination of the Federal Assistive Technology
Research and Development Program:
There is no effective coordinating body for assistive technology research and
development within the Federal Government. While the Interagency Committee on
Disabilities Research (ICDR) was designed to coordinate the Federal effort, it
has no real authority and has no budget. The Administration will provide new
funding to the ICDR so that it can prioritize the immediate assistive and
universally designed technology needs in the disability community, as well as
foster collaborative projects between the Federal laboratories and the private
Promotes Private-Public Partnerships:
There are nearly 2,500 companies working to bring new assistive technologies
to market. Many small businesses, however, cannot make the necessary capital
investments until they have information concerning the market for a particular
assistive technology. To help these businesses bring assistive technologies to
market, the Administration will establish an “Assistive Technology Development
Fund.” Housed under the ICDR, the fund will help underwrite technology
demonstration, testing, validation and market assessment to meet specific needs
of small businesses so that they can better serve the needs of people with
Increases Access to Assistive Technology:
Assistive technology is often prohibitively expensive. For example, personal
computers configured with assistive technology can cost anywhere from $2,000 to
$20,000. The Administration will significantly increase Federal funding for
low-interest loans to purchase assistive technology. These grants will go to a
state agency in collaboration with banks or non-profit groups to guarantee loans
and lower interest rates.
Education is the key to independent living and a high quality of life.
Unfortunately, one in five adults with disabilities has not graduated from high
school, compared to less than one of ten adults without disabilities. The
Administration will expand access to quality education for Americans with
Originally passed by Congress in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Act,
or IDEA, ensures that children with disabilities would have a free public
education that would meet their unique needs.
The Administration will increase educational opportunity for children with
disabilities by working with Congress to give states increased IDEA funds. This
will help meet the needs of students with disabilities and free up additional
resources for education at the local level.
Summary of Proposals
Increases Funding for Special Education. In return for participating
in a new system of flexibility and accountability in the use of Federal
education funds, states will receive an increase in IDEA funds for education at
the local level and help in meeting the special needs of students with
Establishes the “Reading First” Program. President Bush will
increase Federal funding to students, including those with disabilities, by
creating an incentive fund for states to teach every child to read by third
grade. States that choose to draw from this fund will be required to initiate,
among other requirements: a reading diagnostic test for students in K-2 to
determine where students need help; a research-based reading curriculum;
training for K-2 teachers in reading preparation; and intervention for students
who are not reading at grade level in K-2.
Supplements Reading First with an Early Childhood Reading Initiative.
States participating in the Reading First program will have the option to
receive “Early Reading First” funding to implement research-based reading
programs in existing pre-school programs and Head Start programs that feed into
participating elementary schools. The purpose of this program is to illustrate
on a larger scale recent research findings that children taught pre-reading and
math skills in pre-school enter school ready to learn reading and mathematics.
Homeownership has always been at the heart of the “American dream.” This
past year, Congress passed the “American Homeownership and Economic
Opportunity Act of 2000,” which reforms Federal rental assistance to give
individuals who qualify the opportunity to purchase a home.
Rental assistance for low-income Americans, including those with
disabilities, is provided by a program known as Section 8 of the Housing Act of
1937, administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD). Residents are provided Section 8 vouchers so that they can afford rental
payments for public housing. And many of those Section 8 vouchers go to
individuals with disabilities.
In addition to increasing independence, homeownership also promotes savings.
Mortgage payments, unlike rental payments, help build net worth because a
portion of the payment goes toward building equity. In turn, as one’s home
equity increases, it becomes easier to finance other purchases such as a
computer or further education.
Summary of Action
Implementation of the Section 8 Program to Allow
Recipients to Apply Their Rental Vouchers to Homeownership:
The Administration will implement Public Law 106-569, which allows local
Public Housing Authorities to provide recipients of Section 8 vouchers who have
disabilities with up to a year’s worth of vouchers in a lump-sum payment to
finance the down payment on a home.
(Part A: Promoting Telework)
Americans with disabilities should have every freedom to pursue careers,
integrate into the workforce, and participate as full members in the economic
The New Freedom Initiative will help tear down barriers to the workplace, and
help promote full access and integration.
Computer technology and the Internet have tremendous potential to broaden the
lives and increase the independence of people with disabilities. Nearly half of
people with disabilities say the Internet has significantly improved their
quality of life, compared to 27 percent of people without disabilities.
The computer and Internet revolution has not reached as many people with
disabilities as the population without disabilities. Only 25% of people with
disabilities own a computer, compared with 66% of U.S. adults. And only 20% of
people with disabilities have access to the Internet, compared to over 40% of
The primary barrier to wider access is cost. Computers with adaptive
technology can cost as much as $20,000, which is prohibitively expensive for
many individuals. And the median income of Americans with disabilities is far
below the national average.
The New Freedom Initiative will expand the avenue of teleworking, so that
individuals with mobility impairments can work from their homes if they choose.
Summary of Proposals
Creates the “Access to Telework” Fund. Federal matching funds will
be provided annually to states to guarantee low-income loans for people with
disabilities to purchase equipment to telecommute from home.
Makes a Company's Contribution of Computer and Internet Access for Home
Use by Employees with Disabilities a Tax-Free Benefit. The Administration
will encourage businesses to give computers and Internet access to employees
with disabilities by making it explicit that this provision is a tax-free
benefit. By making this benefit tax free to employees, the proposal will
encourage more employers to provide computer equipment and Internet access, and
employees will have greater options to take advantage of this flexibility for
teleworking. For individuals with disabilities, this flexibility will expand the
universe of potential and accessible employment.
Prohibits OSHA from Regulating “Home Office” Standards. In
November 1999, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) issued an 8-page response to an employer inquiry asserting
that it had the power to regulate home office standards and hold employers
responsible if those standards were not met. This proposal would have had a
chilling effect on teleworking, as employers would seek to avoid potential
liabilities. Although OSHA has since withdrawn the response, it has not yet
foreclosed future action. The proposal will amend the Occupational Safety and
Health Act of 1970 to prohibit OSHA from being applied to the home worksites of
employees who work at home through the use of “telephone, computer or
Integrating Americans with Disabilities
into the Workforce
(Part B: Ticket-to-Work)
In 1999, Congress passed the “Ticket-to-Work and Work Incentives
Improvement Act,” which will give Americans with disabilities both the
incentive and the means to seek employment.
As part of the New Freedom Initiative, the Administration will ensure the
Act’s swift implementation.
Today, there are more than 7.5 million Americans with disabilities receiving
benefits under Federal disability programs. According to a recent Harris Survey,
conducted by the National Organization of Disability, 72 percent of the
Americans with disabilities want to work. However, in part because of
disincentives in Federal law, less than 1 percent of those receiving disability
benefits fully enter the workforce.
Prior to the “Ticket to Work” law, in order to continue to receive
disability payments and health coverage, recipients could not engage in any
substantial work. The Ticket to Work law, however, provides incentives for
people with disabilities to return to work by:
- Providing Americans with disabilities with a voucher-like “ticket”
that allows them to choose their own support services, including vocational
education programs and rehabilitation services.
- Extending Medicare coverage for SSDI beneficiaries so they can return to
work without the fear of losing health benefits.
- Expanding Medicaid eligibility categories for certain working people with
severe disabilities so that they can continue to receive benefits after
their income or condition improves.
Summary of Action
President Bush Has Committed to Sign an Order to Support Effective and
Swift Implementation of “Ticket to Work”. The order will direct the
federal agency to continue to swiftly implement the law giving Americans with
disabilities the ability to choose their own support services and to maintain
their health benefits when they return to work.
Integrating Americans with Disabilities
into the Workforce
(Part C: Compliance with Americans with
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July
26, 1990, it was the most far reaching law advancing access of individuals with
disabilities, workforce integration, and independence. The law, signed by
President George Bush, gives civil rights protections to individuals with
disabilities that are like those provided to individuals on the basis of race,
sex, national origin, and religion.
In the eleven years since it was signed, the ADA has worked to guarantee
equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public
accommodations, transportation, State and local government services, and
telecommunications. The law has been especially helpful in providing access to
jobs, especially in the small business sector, which has created two-thirds of
all net new jobs since the early 1970s.
To encourage small businesses to comply with the ADA, legislation was signed
into law in 1990 to provide a credit for 50 percent of eligible expenses up to
$5,000 a year. Such eligible expenses include assistive technologies.
Unfortunately, many small businesses are not aware of this credit.
President George W. Bush believes that the Americans with Disabilities Act
has been an integral component of the movement toward full integration of
individuals with disabilities but recognizes that there is still much more to be
done. He also recognizes that to further integrate individuals with disabilities
into the workforce, more needs to be done to promote ADA compliance.
Summary of Proposals
Supports the ADA and Provides Technical Assistance to Small Businesses. The
President and the Attorney General will ensure full enforcement of the Americans
with Disabilities Act by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.
In addition, the New Freedom Initiative will provide resources annually for
technical assistance to help small businesses comply with the Act, serve
customers, and hire more people with disabilities.
Promotes the Awareness and Utilization of Disabled Access Credit (DAC). The
DAC, created in 1990, is an incentive program to assist small businesses in
complying with the ADA. DAC provides a credit for 50 percent of eligible
expenses up to $5,000 a year, including expenses associated with making their
facilities accessible and with purchasing assistive technologies. Utilization of
the credit has been limited because small businesses are often not aware of it.
Every American should have the opportunity to participate fully in society
and engage in productive work. Unfortunately, millions of Americans with
disabilities are locked out of the workplace because they are denied the tools
and access necessary for success.
Transportation can be a particularly difficult barrier to work for Americans
with disabilities. In 1997, the Director of Project Action stated that “access
to transportation is often the critical factor in obtaining employment for the
nation’s 25 million transit dependent people with disabilities.” Today, the
lack of adequate transportation remains a primary barrier to work for people
with disabilities: one-third of people with disabilities report that inadequate
transportation is a significant problem.
Through formula grant programs and the enforcement of the ADA, the Federal
Government has helped make our mass transit systems more accessible. More must
be done, however, to test new transportation ideas and to increase access to
alternate means of transportation, such as vans with specialty lifts, modified
automobiles, and ride-share programs for those who cannot get to buses or other
forms of mass transit.
On a daily basis, many non-profit groups and businesses are working hard to
help people with disabilities live and work independently. These organizations
often lack the funds to get people with disabilities to job interviews, to job
training, and to work.
The Federal Government should support the development of innovative
transportation initiatives and partner with local organizations to promote
access to alternate methods of transportation.
Summary of Proposals
Promotes innovative transportation solutions for people with disabilities
by funding pilot programs. The proposal provides funding for 10 pilot
programs run by state or local governments in regional, urban, and rural areas.
Pilot programs will be selected on the basis of the use of innovative approaches
to developing transportation plans that serve people with disabilities. The
Administration will work with Congress to evaluate the effectiveness of these
pilot programs and encourage the expansion of successful initiatives.
Helps create a network of alternate transportation through community-based
and other providers. The proposal will establish a competitive matching
grant program to promote access to alternative methods of transportation. This
dollar-for-dollar matching program will be open to community-based organizations
that seek to integrate Americans with disabilities into the workforce. The funds
will go toward the purchase and operation of specialty vans, assisting people
with down payments or costs associated with accessible vehicles, and extending
the use of existing transportation resources.
(Part A: Commitment to Community-Based Care)
On June 22, 1999, the Supreme Court decided Olmstead v. L.C., ruling that, in
appropriate circumstances, the ADA requires the placement of persons with
disabilities in a community-integrated setting whenever possible. The Court
concluded that “unjustified isolation,” e.g., institutionalization when a
doctor deems community treatment equally beneficial, “is properly regarded as
discrimination based on disability.”
Olmstead has yet to be fully implemented. President Bush believes that
community-based care is critically important to promoting maximum independence
and to integrating individuals with disabilities into community life.
Summary of Action
President Bush has Committed to Sign an Order Supporting Swift
Implementation of the Olmstead Decision. The order will support the most
integrated community-based settings for individuals with disabilities, in
accordance with the Olmstead decision. The Administration will pursue swift
implementation in a manner that respects the proper roles of the Federal
Government and the several states.
Promoting Full Access to Community Life
(Part B: Better Coordination of Federal
Resources to Address
Mental Health Problems)
Currently, there are numerous Federal agencies that oversee mental health
policies, funding, laws and programs including: the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Health
Care Financing Administration, the Office of Personnel Management, the Social
Security Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the
Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the
Department of Justice, and the Department of Labor.
These Federal agencies are doing valuable work, but they would be much more
effective, efficient, and less duplicative if they were better coordinated.
With coordination, the competitive advantage of each agency could be
leveraged to provide the most needed and suitable service in the framework of
federal efforts to address mental health.
Summary of Action
President Bush Has Committed to Create a National Commission on Mental
Health. The National Commission will study and make recommendations for
improving America’s mental health service delivery system, including making
recommendations on the availability and delivery of new treatments and
technologies for individuals with severe mental illness.
Promoting Full Access to Community Life
(Part C: Access to the Political Process)
There are over 35 million voting-age persons with disabilities, but currently
people with disabilities register to vote at a rate that is 16 percentage points
less than the rest of the population and vote at a rate that is 20 percent
voters who have no disabilities.
According to the National Organization on Disability, low voter turnout among
people who are disabled is due to both accessibility problems at voting
locations and the lack of secrecy and independence when voting. The most recent
Federal Election Commission (FEC) report states that at least 20,000 of the
Nation’s more than 120,000 polling places are inaccessible to people with
President Bush recognizes that full integration into society must include
access to and participation in the political process.
Summary of Proposal
Supports Improving Accessibility to Voting for Americans with
Disabilities. President Bush will support improved access to polling places
and ballot secrecy. He will work with Congress to address the barriers to voting
for Americans with disabilities and to expanding suffrage for all Americans.
Promoting Full Access to Community Life
(Part D: Access to ADA-Exempt Organizations)
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 opened countless
businesses and public accommodations to people with disabilities by mandating
that they be made accessible. For constitutional and other concerns, however,
Title III exempts many civic organizations (such as Rotary and Lions Clubs) and
religious organizations from its requirements of full access.
Americans with disabilities should be fully integrated into their
communities, and civic and religious organizations are vital parts of those
communities. Too many private clubs, churches, synagogues, and mosques are
inaccessible or unwelcoming to people with disabilities. As a result, people
with disabilities are often unable to participate as fully in community or
The National Organization on Disability has led a national effort to make
places of worship accessible and welcoming to all Americans. Many organizations
and congregations want to be open to all but have limited resources to ensure
Every effort should be made to ensure that Americans with disabilities have
the opportunity to be integrated into their communities and welcomed into
communities of faith.
Summary of Proposal
Establishes a National Fund to Provide Matching Grants for Accessibility
Renovations for ADA-Exempt Organizations: To assist private clubs and
religious organizations in making sure that their facilities are fully
accessible and to expand access for all, the proposal provides annual Federal
matching grants to ADA-exempt organizations making renovations or accommodations
to improve accessibility. Because all ADA-exempt organizations will be eligible
for the grants, irrespective of whether they are religious or secular, they
would comport with the Supreme Court’s test for constitutional neutrality.