My Statement on the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Thirty years ago today, our nation moved closer to the fulfillment of its foundational promise by passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. For the estimated 61 million Americans now living with a disability, the ADA has been a critical source of opportunity, participation, self-sufficiency, and respect — a triumph of American civil rights.
I will never forget the leadership and persistence of my friends, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman Major Owens, and Congressman Tony Coelho, who teamed up to create the ADA against long odds and determined opposition. Nor will I forget the moment just after it passed, when Senator Harkin delivered a speech from the Senate floor in American Sign Language as a tribute to his older brother, Frank, who was deaf. For tens of millions of American families, this work could not be more personal.
I was immensely proud to cosponsor the ADA, which was forged through fearless advocacy and tough bipartisan negotiations — a Democratic bill signed by George H.W. Bush, a Republican President. It rose above the foundation laid by other landmark laws I had the honor of helping to pass, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, and the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988. And its legacy was furthered by the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which finally barred health insurers from instituting lifetime caps on benefits — and denying coverage altogether — for Americans living with disabilities.
Today, President Trump threatens that progress, consistently disparaging Americans with disabilities with his rhetoric and actions. His administration has attempted to undermine the ADA by making it harder for Americans with disabilities to exercise their civil rights by filing claims. And he has repeatedly tried to gut Medicaid and repeal the Affordable Care Act — two of the most important safeguards of the health and independence of Americans with disabilities.
If I have the honor of becoming President, every policy I pursue — from rebuilding our middle class, to fighting climate change, to achieving universal health coverage — will be created with the full inclusion and dignity of Americans with disabilities in mind. As we seek to recover from a devastating public health crisis that is disproportionately impacting people with disabilities, it is more important than ever that we fulfill the promise of the ADA and build a more equal and inclusive society. My comprehensive Plan for Full Participation and Equality for People with Disabilities seeks to do just that through a broad sweep of laws, policies, and actions designed to uplift dignity and opportunity.
The plan creates a senior White House position dedicated to asserting the interests of Americans with disabilities in every area of policy development — ensuring that disability rights are embedded in everything we pursue. We will make bold investments in home and community care through Medicaid to help states clear the backlog of 800,000 people who need support, but can’t get it. We will give a major, long-overdue raise to the direct care workforce. And we will guarantee access to high quality, affordable health care — including mental health care — for every American.
My plan also eliminates employment barriers for workers with disabilities — phasing out the subminimum wage and creating new job opportunities for Americans with disabilities. We will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, invest in accessible child care, and provide federal support to ease students with disabilities’ transitions from high school to higher education and employment opportunities. And we will invest in accessible, affordable, and integrated housing and transportation; eliminate the Supplemental Security Income marriage penalty and other provisions that prevent Americans with disabilities from achieving economic security; and use every tool of American diplomacy to advance disability rights on a global scale.
Finally — and most urgently — we will take immediate steps to support Americans with disabilities grappling with the coronavirus pandemic: outlawing the rationing of scarce medical resources based on a patient’s disability; aggressively enforcing non-discrimination laws; making sure that people living in the community have access to PPE when it is most critically needed; expanding remote mental health and food and medicine delivery programs; launching an emergency paid leave program; and investing in accessible technology to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Thirty years on, we still have work to do to realize the full aspiration of the ADA. We need to ensure that every American has the chance to live independently, contribute their talents to our society, and go through life free from the burden of discriminatory systems and practices. I look forward to working together with the disability community to bring us closer to those goals — and finally deliver on the promise of the ADA.