Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General [Vanita] Gupta, for those kind words – and for all that you and your colleagues in the Civil Rights Division do every day to secure equality and opportunity for every American. I also want to thank Director [Richard] Toscano of the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity Staff and Carlton Coleman, Manager of the Departmental Disability Employment Program, for organizing this event and for helping us to ensure that the Department of Justice is a model of fair and diverse employment. It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning and it is a privilege to join so many committed public servants and dedicated professionals as we celebrate the contributions of American workers with disabilities; as we reaffirm our dedication to building a workforce that is stronger, more inclusive and more effective; and as we renew our efforts to ensure that every American is afforded the opportunity to contribute his or her unique talents, skills and expertise.
I am proud to say that our nation’s Department of Justice is committed to tearing down the barriers that too often prevent talented, well-qualified Americans – from all backgrounds and walks of life – from seeking meaningful employment. Ever since the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 25 years ago – opening what my predecessor, Attorney General Janet Reno, called “a new era of opportunity, promise and dignity” – this department has taken critical steps to advance and extend opportunities for individuals of all circumstances in jurisdictions across the country. From our work to make the 1996 Olympics the first completely accessible games in history, to our affirmation of deaf Americans’ right to comprehensive health care, to our efforts to ensure that child care programs accommodated young people with disabilities, the Department of Justice has consistently demonstrated its commitment to protecting every individual’s full and equal rights under the law.
Those efforts continue to this day. Our Civil Rights Division, under Vanita’s outstanding leadership, continues to vigorously enforce the ADA’s provisions. Since 2009, we’ve pursued more than 50 matters under the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead, which found that the ADA requires states to end the unnecessary institutionalization and segregation of Americans with disabilities. We’re working to achieve full access to medical care through the Barrier Free Health Care Initiative, which has resulted in more than 40 settlements since its launch in 2012. And we’ve undertaken a number of investigations and suits to expand access to education and end a school-to-prison pipeline that is disproportionately filled with children of color and children with disabilities.
Our tireless advocates for disability rights and equality, many of whom are here with us today, have dedicated their careers to this effort – establishing a tradition of excellence and a reputation for achieving results that have helped to improve the national climate surrounding disability employment. Thanks to these passionate women and men on the front lines, we’ve made significant strides in transforming workplace cultures to be more inclusive and more accommodating. Through the Justice Department’s own Diversity Initiative, the work of our Disability Rights Section, the support of component Equal Employment Opportunity and Human Resources Offices and the leadership of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities, we’re not just aggressively enforcing the ADA and other applicable laws – we’re leading by example in every Justice Department office.
These comprehensive efforts could not be more important. They foster an atmosphere of cooperation and respect. They make a powerful, positive difference in countless lives. And they bring our society ever closer to its founding ideals. As we’ve seen throughout history, America is a stronger country when we harness the energy, the enthusiasm and the talents of every citizen – regardless of who they are, what they look like, or what their disability status may be. Our Union is made more perfect whenever we stand up and speak out for the core values – of diversity, inclusion and equality – that have always lit our way forward. This department is made more effective when we create a professional environment that empowers individuals from diverse backgrounds – including persons with disabilities – to effectively support our mission. And our society is made fundamentally more just – and more equal – when we strive to broaden the circle of opportunity to include everyone with the will and the determination to work toward success.
Of course, we still have further to go. Obstacles to equality persist, whether through active discrimination or idle negligence. But as our shared national history reminds us, in times of challenge, America has always found a way to move forward together. And that is exactly what we must continue to do. We must continue to work for full and unequivocal equality until all Americans are afforded the dignity and the respect they deserve. We must expand our efforts until all Americans are seen as more than just a part of who they are. And despite all that we have accomplished over the past quarter century – and even over the last seven years of the Obama Administration – we must remain steadfast in our effort to confront the lingering obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from fulfilling their personal and professional potential.
I thank you all for your devotion to this cause. I applaud your dedication and your partnership in this mission. And I urge each of you to keep up the outstanding work.
And now, I am pleased to introduce Dr. Timothy Shriver, a lifelong advocate on behalf of Americans with disabilities and the chair of the Special Olympics, who will speak after a short video. Dr. Shriver has been an extraordinary leader and an indispensable partner in our shared effort to promote equality and improve lives and I am delighted to have him here with us today. Thank you.