Thank you, Charles, for those kind words – and good morning, everyone. I’d like to thank the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity Staff for all they’ve done to bring us together for this important event. And I’d like to extend a special welcome to each of our program participants – especially our keynote speakers, Rhonda Basha and Larry Hughes. Thank you for sharing your perspectives with us today – and for helping us to commemorate Disability Employment Awareness Month.
For more than half a century, Americans have come together every October to celebrate the achievements of workers with disabilities, to call attention to the obstacles and challenges that have yet to be overcome, and to ensure that all employers fulfill their responsibilities to create the conditions and opportunities for citizens with disabilities to grow, to thrive, and to fulfill their full potential – both personally and professionally.
During this time, our Nation also has witnessed the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. And in the 22 years since it became law, we can all be proud of the Justice Department’s strong enforcement of the ADA, as well as our ongoing efforts to make certain that – throughout the country, and especially within these walls – “talent has no boundaries.”
Today, across every component, we’re exploring innovative strategies for building a stronger Department of Justice. We’re standing up – and speaking out – for the rights of men and women with disabilities from all backgrounds and walks of life. In fact, in just a single case – this past August – the Department’s Civil Rights Division filed a consent decree with a major county government in Maryland, settling allegations of discriminatory employment practices in violation of the ADA – including retaliatory actions that were allegedly taken against at least one employee. Under the terms of this agreement, the County will be required to adopt new policies and procedures regarding medical examinations and inquiries, to provide ADA training to County employees, and to pay $475,000 to those who were harmed by their actions, among other actions.
But this is only the beginning. We’re also moving aggressively to forge new interagency relationships that can help to amplify the work that’s being done by the Department’s employee organizations to foster inclusion and diversity within our ranks. Through the Department’s Diversity Initiative – and in response to a recent Executive Order – we’re also working to increase the representation of people with disabilities, to expand key recruitment and outreach programs, and to afford each individual the chance to contribute and serve at the highest levels of the Department. Thanks to the leadership of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities, we’re continuing to make significant strides in promoting more inclusive hiring, accommodation, retention, and promotion practices. We’re striving to raise diversity awareness through a series of training programs that highlight interviewing techniques, disability etiquette, assistive technology, and reasonable accommodation practices.
Of course, despite the significant steps forward that have been taken in recent years – as many of you have seen firsthand – a great deal remains to be done. Across the country, people with disabilities continue to face a range of obstacles – from discrimination, to a lack of accessibility and employment opportunities. For all that we’ve accomplished in helping to overcome barriers and rigorously enforce essential legal protections, there’s no question that our nation’s struggle to ensure equal rights, equal opportunity, and equal justice for every American is far from over. And there can be no doubt that each of us has the ability – and as well as the responsibility – to help take this work to a new level.
That’s why I will continue to rely on each of you – and the passion, dedication, and leadership that you bring to this work every day – to help drive our efforts forward. Because of your support – and the contributions of partners in and beyond this room, whose tireless dedication we applaud this afternoon – I believe we can all be proud of what’s been achieved over the last three and a half years. And I’m certain that we stand poised to build on this momentum, to expand upon the work that’s currently underway – and to extend the progress that we’ve gathered to celebrate – in delivering on the promise of a brighter, more inclusive future for all Americans.