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President Announces New Freedom Initiative

 

 

 

Table of Contents

Foreword by President George W. Bush

Executive Summary

Increasing Access to Assistive and Universally Designed Technologies

Expanding Educational Opportunities

Promoting Homeownership

Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce

Expanding Transportation Options

Promoting Full Access to Community Life

 

Foreword by President George W. Bush

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 community life.

I look forward to working with Congress to see these proposals become law.

Executive Summary

Fulfilling America’s Promise to Americans with Disabilities

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 education.

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 without disabilities.

     

  • 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 Policy

The “New Freedom Initiative” is composed of the following key components:

Increasing Access to Assistive and Universally Designed Technologies:
  • 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 significantly.

Expanding Educational Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities:
  • 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 work.

     

  • 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 decision.

     

  • 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.


Increasing Access to Assistive and Universally Designed Technologies

(Title I)

Overview

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 citizens.

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 sector.

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 disabilities.

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.



Expanding Educational Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities

(Title II)

Overview

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 disabilities.

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 disabilities.

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.



Promoting Homeownership for Americans with Disabilities

(Title III)

Overview

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.




Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce

Title IV
(Part A: Promoting Telework)

Overview

Americans with disabilities should have every freedom to pursue careers, integrate into the workforce, and participate as full members in the economic marketplace.

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 U.S. adults.

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 electronic device.”



Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce

(Part B: Ticket-to-Work)


Overview

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 Disabilities Act)

Overview

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.



Expanding Transportation Options

(Title V)

Overview

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.



Promoting Full Access to Community Life

Title VI
(Part A: Commitment to Community-Based Care)

Overview

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)

Overview

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)

Overview

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 disabilities.

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)

Overview

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 religious events.

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 accessibility.

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.

 

 

 

 

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