Justice News

Head of Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at Justice Department Event Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Washington, DC
United States
Thursday, July 23, 2015

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Rebecca, for that introduction. 

I also want to take a moment to recognize some of our great colleagues in disability rights work:

Stuart Delery, Acting Associate Attorney General here at the Department of Justice.  Jocelyn Samuels, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.  Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin at the Department of Education’s Office for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.  Assistant Secretary Gustavo Velasquez of the Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  And Linda Ford, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Federal Transit Administration

Today, we come together to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the journey of the past 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the heroes, leaders, activists and people of good will who came together to make that journey possible.  The ADA was, as Senator Tom Harkin famously said on the Senate floor, the Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities.

The ADA proclaimed our commitment to the highest values of this country – freedom, equal opportunity and fairness for all.

Through the ADA, we proclaimed that we, as a country, do not accept the traditional fears, stereotypes, and prejudices that have so restricted the lives of people with disabilities.

We proclaimed that we will not accept a society where people with disabilities are segregated, institutionalized and excluded from our communities.

We proclaimed that we will not accept a world where people with disabilities cannot contribute their skills and talents to the economy and benefit from those contributions with a fair wage.

We proclaimed that no aspect of American life will be off limits to people with disabilities – not employment, not transportation, not marriage and family, not civic participation or civic leadership, not health care, not education, not housing, and not shopping, dining or traveling.

We proclaimed that we – all Americans – do not accept the low expectations of the past.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s words upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ring equally true for the ADA – “This civil rights act is a challenge to all of us – to go to work in our communities and our states, in our homes and in our hearts – to eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country.” 

Over the last 25 years, we as a country, have accepted that challenge and undertaken the hard work of changing our attitudes about disability, of tearing down the physical and attitudinal barriers to equality, and of dismantling the systems that have historically excluded people with disabilities.

We at the Civil Rights Division have been proud partners in this work.  Our cases and technical assistance have reflected the high standards and broad scope of the ADA.  Our work just this month reflects our commitment. 

To ensure that people with disabilities have access to all the programs, services and activities of their local communities, we have reached four Project Civic Access settlements this month – that makes 218 Project Civic Access settlements so far.  To address the prejudices and stereotypes we have seen leading child welfare systems to tear apart families just because a parent has a disability, we, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, will be releasing technical assistance on the rights of parents with disabilities in child welfare systems.  To continue to challenge unnecessary segregation in all the systems where it occurs, we released a letter of findings determining that the segregated Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support school system violates the Olmstead integration mandate of the ADA by unnecessarily segregating students with behavioral disabilities – that is one of the 50 Olmstead matters we have pursued in 25 states since 2009 and one of the 35 education matters we have pursued since 2010.  To ensure people with disabilities have full access to medical care, we, along with our US Attorney partners, reached four settlements under our Barrier Free Healthcare Initiative – that makes nearly 40 Barrier Free Health Care Initiative settlements since the project began in 2012.  To challenge employment discrimination, we reached an agreement with the University of Michigan requiring them to reassign employees with disabilities to vacant positions when their disabilities prevent them from continuing to perform their current jobs.  And we reached a settlement with Carnival Corporation to make 62 cruise ships accessible on its Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and Holland America Line brands.

Today, we celebrate how far we’ve come.

But today we also proclaim these principles again.  We will not stop

Until every child with a disability can dream the same dreams as children without disabilities – and follow those dreams to reality.  Until every person with a disability can pursue a life of work, family, community and civic participation.  And until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question.

Today, I am honored to celebrate with all of you.  But I am even more honored to stand with you, to work with you, and to fight with you to ensure that the progress of the past 25 years toward freedom, equality and fairness for people with disabilities continues.

It is now my great honor to introduce Chai Feldblum, a Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  As Legislative Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union from 1988 to 1991, Commissioner Feldblum played a leading role in helping to draft and negotiate the ADA.  Later, she was instrumental in drafting and negotiating passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

Commissioner Feldblum was nominated to the EEOC in 2010, and since then she has continued to lead the federal government in its implementation and enforcement of the ADA.

Today, the Civil Rights Division and the EEOC announce that we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding employment discrimination charges against state and local governments under the ADA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). 

The EEOC receives and investigates charges of discrimination against state and local governmental employers and, if it finds cause to believe that an ADA or GINA violation has occurred, attempts to conciliate those charges. 

The Department of Justice is the sole federal entity that has authority to sue state and local government employers for violations of the ADA and GINA. 

Therefore, if conciliation is unsuccessful, EEOC refers the charge to the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division.

Updated August 19, 2016