Obama's Reform What Has Been Done

Heather Smith - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The President is committed to nurturing a society that values the contributions of all of our citizens and residents, including the approximately 50 million people in this country living with disabilities. While people with disabilities are integrated into society as never before, we must do more.  President Obama and his Administration have achieved real results, motivated by the following guiding principles:'

Strengthen Health Care

The President signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which establishes a National Alzheimer’s Project within the Department of Health and Human Services and an advisory council on Alzheimer’s research, care, and services.

  • The President signed into law the reauthorization of the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act, which provides funding for screening, intervention, and research of hearing loss, strengthens language to ensure better services, and requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a postdoctoral fellowship program to foster research and development in the area of early hearing detection and intervention.
  • The President signed into law the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis.
  • The President issued an Executive Order repealing the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.
  • President Obama placed comprehensive health reform at the top of his domestic policy agenda. The President signed into law the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which provides many benefits for people with disabilities.
  • The ACA ends discrimination on the basis of pre-existing condition and bans caps on lifetime benefits.
  • The ACA, starting in 2014, bars insurance companies from discrimination on the basis of medical history or genetic information.
  • The ACA establishes the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) program, a self-funded and voluntary long-term care insurance choice that would help people with disabilities remain in their homes, communities and jobs through cash benefits to pay for community support services.
  • The ACA advances community living by extending the Money Follows the Person program, improving the Medicaid home-and-community-based services (HCBS) option.
  • The ACA establishes the Community First Choice Optioncovering community-based attendant services and supports to help Medicaid beneficiaries with daily activities and health-related tasks.
  • The ACA enhances health care delivery by establishing standards for medical diagnostic equipment so people with disabilities can access vital preventative care. 

Increase Employment Opportunities

President Obama is committed to expanding access to employment for people with disabilities by ensuring that his administration: hires people with disabilities; enforces existing laws; provides technical assistance and information on reasonable accommodations; removes barriers to work; and identifies and removes barriers to employment encountered by people with public benefits.

  • The President issued an Executive Order to make the federal government a model employer of persons with disabilities.  The Order requires agencies to create hiring plans and holds agencies accountable for their hiring practices.
  • The Department of Labor and the Department of Defense made available the 2011 Workforce Recruitment Program Database to help college students and recent graduates with disabilities find jobs in the public and private sectors.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) launched a new initiative, Add Us In, designed to identify and develop strategies to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities within small businesses owned and operated by minorities.
  • In February 2009, for the first time, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting the employment situation for people with disabilities.
  • The Administration hosted a Disability Job Fairto bring qualified candidates with disabilities and agencies together to help increase federal employment for people with disabilities in the federal government.
  • The Office of Personnel Management created a series of quick training videos to encourage the use of ScheduleA for disability hiring in the federal government.
  • The President issued a memorandum supporting the Randolph-Sheppard Vending Facility Program, which requires qualified blind individuals be given a priority to operate vending facilities on Federal properties. The program provides high-quality entrepreneurial opportunities for blind business managers, who, in turn, have hired thousands of workers.
  • The Department of Labor proposed a new rule to strengthen requirements established in Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act that would require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a hiring goal of having 7 percent of their workforces be people with disabilities. The proposed regulatory changes detail specific actions contractors must take in the areas of recruitment, training, record keeping and policy dissemination — similar to those that have long been required to promote workplace equality for women and minorities. 

Expand Educational Opportunities

President Obama supports improved educational opportunities for people with disabilities.  The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization proposal will increase support for the inclusion and improved outcomes of students with disabilities, ensuring that teachers are prepared to meet the needs of diverse learners and that assessments more accurately and appropriately measure the performance of students with disabilities.  President Obama also supports expanded funding and increase enforcement for programs like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that ensure all Americans have access to the tools to succeed.

  • The U.S. Department of Education allocated more than $19.9 million in grants to help prepare education personnel to improve services and results for children with disabilities.
  • President Obama celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • The Department of Justice and the Department of Education issued a joint “Dear Colleague” letter to college and university presidents expressing concern about the growing use of e-book readers that are not accessible to blind and low vision students.  The letter reminds learning institutions that under federal law, emerging technology used in the classroom must be accessible to all students.

  • The Department of Education issued guidance in a “Dear Colleague”   letter   to support educators in combating bullying in schools against all persons, including people with disabilities.

Protect Civil Rights and Promote Access to Community Living

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is landmark legislation that has done much to protect people with disabilities from discrimination; however, President Obama will push for more consistent and effective enforcement of ADA, which can do more to prevent discrimination in employment, public services, and public accommodations.  Too many people who need assistance with the activities of everyday life face a difficult choice:  move into a nursing home and face safety and quality of care problems or risk injury or death by staying in the community without adequate services to address personal needs. The President believes that more can be done to show federal leadership toward ending institutional bias and more rigorously enforcing the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which affirmed that unjustifiable institutionalization of a person with a disability who, with proper support, can live in the community is discrimination.

  • President Obama launched the “Year of Community Living” to identify ways to improve access to housing, community supports, and independent living arrangements.  The interagency collaboration is intended to allow persons with disabilities to live productive independent lives in their communities rather than in institutional settings.
  • The Department of Justice obtained a major comprehensive agreement in the state of Georgia strongly affirming the Olmstead decision, which will protect individuals confined in hospitals from continued segregation and from threats of harm to their lives, health and safety and affirms that people with disabilities have a right to live in the most integrated settings possible.
  • The Department of Justice issued revised ADA regulations includingADA Standards for Accessible Design, setting requirements for newly designed, constructed, or altered public facilities.  These new standards will set minimum requirements for new construction and alterations of the facilities of more than 80,000 state and local governments and over seven million businesses.
  • The President signed into law the Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Actand the Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Act. These two bills will make a variety of improvements to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s existing supportive housing programs for extremely low-income senior citizens and persons with disabilities.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development also awarded nearly $33 million to fund rental assistance vouchers for over 4,000 Americans with disabilities through its Rental Assistance for Non-Elderly Persons with Disabilities Program.

Support Development and Use of Accessible Technology

President Obama is committed to winning the future through innovation and access to technology for Americans with disabilities.

  • The President signed into law the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, regarding the establishment of minimum sound standards related to motor vehicles.
  • President Obama signed into law the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on. As part of this legislation, the FCC established the Emergency Access Advisory Committee to develop recommendations for making next generation emergency services accessible to people with disabilities and the Video Programming Accessibility Advisory Committee to gather recommendations on ways for making television and Internet programming accessible to people with hearing or vision disabilities through closed captioning and video description.
  • As part of the President’s initiative to make government information available to all Americans through accessible electronic and information technology under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Chief Acquisition Officer and the Chief Information Officer issued a memo to make agencies aware of existing resources and direct agencies to take stronger steps toward improving the acquisition and implementation of accessible technology.
  • The Chief Information Officer Council created its first ever Accessibility Committee in 2010.
  • The White House hosted a Technology Showcase, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce, where nearly 40 companies, organizations and agencies demonstrated the power of technology to level the playing field for Americans with disabilities.

Support International Disability Rights

The President believes that disability rights aren't just civil rights to be enforced here at home, but they are universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world.  Today, 650 million people—10 percent of the world's population—live with a disability.

Under President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adding America to the then list of 141 countries signing the first new human rights treaty of the 21st Century.

Updates

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Disability Rights Network signed a Memorandum of Agreement to provide a frame of reference for cooperation in the event of a natural, man-made, or technological disaster. FEMA also has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with theNational Council on Independent Living to coordinate public engagement efforts on preparedness, response, and recovery.
  • The President's Fiscal Year 2012 Budget includes key provisions to win the future for people with disabilities.
  • The President signed the Combatting Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011, continuing critical investments in research, early detection and support and services for both children and adults
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included a number of provisions of particular concern to people with disabilities.
  • The Act included $500 million to help the Social Security Administration reduce its backlog in processing disability applications;
  • The Act supplied $12.2 billion in funding to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • The Act also provided $87 billion to states to bolster their Medicaid programs during the downturn; and,
  • The Act provided over $500 million in funding for vocational rehabilitation services to help with job training, education and placement.
  • The Act provided over $140 million in funding for independent living centers across the country.

Leadership and Engagement

Appointed Kareem Dale as the first Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. Check out the posts of Kareem Dale and other Administration officials on The White House Blog: Disabilities.

The White House conducts monthly disability outreach calls to update the public on disability issues and to hear from constituents. Contact us if you would like to receive alerts about these calls and other announcements related to disability policy.

You can get more information at the Disability.gov website, which has implemented both social media and personalization tools to offer enhanced experiences for all visitors.  Users are able to personalize their experience on the award-winning website by creating a “My Disability.gov” profile, following the Twitter feed, connecting with other users on Facebook and LinkedIn and reading weekly posts on Disability Blog. 

Disability.gov hosted a Virtual Town Hall in July 2011. White House staff from the Domestic Policy Council, Office of Public Engagement, and Presidential Personnel answered questions live on issues such as employment, education, housing, health care, and social security. Watch the virtual town hall.

The White House also hosted an event to observe Autism Awareness Month in April of 2011. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, HHS Secretary Sebelius, and senior officials from the departments of Education, Justice, and Labor welcomed self-advocates, parents, researchers, health professionals, and local and national leaders to the White House to listen to their insight and to discuss working together to improve the lives of persons on the autism spectrum and their families. Watch the video.

The President and his administration have created three new senior level disability positions and offices:

  • The Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the State Department
  • The Office of Disability Integration and Coordination at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • The Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation at the Department of Transportation


[ back to top ]