Bush Visits Pentagon, Promises Help for Disabled
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 20, 2001 Computers and the Internet deliver a world of information that enriches the lives of many disabled people, but they also create challenges that DoD, other government agencies and the private sector must do more to solve.
That was President Bush 's message to a Pentagon audience June 19 that included Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; Dinah F.B. Cohen, director of DoD's Computer and Electronic Accommodation Program; Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont; Rep. Steve Horn of California; and a host of disabled employees.
President Bush shakes hands with several DoD employees after telling a Pentagon audience that he’s committed to bringing new technology to disabled users as quickly as possible. Bush went to the Pentagon June 19, 2001, to see DoD’s Computer and Electronic Accommodations Program Technology Evaluation Center. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Americans with disabilities have a great deal to contribute to our national security," Rumsfeld said before introducing the president. "In this era of continuing, advancing technologies, there are possibilities to harness their talents in ways that were previously inconceivable."
Bush went to the Pentagon auditorium after watching demonstrations in DoD's Computer and Electronic Accommodations Program Technology Evaluation Center. The center provides employees with disabilities with adaptive computers, electronics and other specially designed assistive devices.
"I saw technologies that are helping people with disabilities enjoy the full range of opportunities made possible by the technology boom," the president told the audience.
He said the center's software allows hearing-impaired people to communicate with co-workers by computer. Screen reading technology makes it possible for the visually impaired to access information off their monitor displays. Voice recognition software unlocks new computing possibilities for people with impaired dexterity.
"The technologies on display here have helped more than 20,000 Defense Department employees enjoy greater access to communications and computing equipment," Bush said. He also pointed out that such technology helps countless individuals in the public and private sectors become fully integrated into the workplace.
Noting that Internet access for Americans with disabilities is half that of people without disabilities, Bush said, "I'm committed to ensuring that government Web sites become compatible with this evolving technology."
Noting that Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act becomes effective for all federal agencies on June 25, the president said, "There will be more opportunities for people of all abilities to access government information." Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that electronic and information technology is accessible for people with disabilities.
"Section 508 will also make the federal government a better employer, as roughly 120,000 federal employees with disabilities will have greater access to the tools they need to better perform their jobs," the president said.
Section 508 is a key element of the president's "New Freedom Initiative," implemented in February. "Its goal is to help Americans with disabilities realize their potential and to achieve their dreams," Bush said.
Among the many goals of the initiative, Bush wants to lower cost and improve access to assistive technologies, such as adaptive computer equipment, lightweight and powered wheelchairs, text telephones and modern artificial limbs. He also wants to expand employment opportunities for the disabled, offer new transportation solutions and improve access to places of worship.
"We've asked Congress to increase funding to bring assistive technologies to market more quickly, to help make them more affordable for the people who need them and to speed research in developing new technologies," the president said.
Bush drew applause when he said he signed an executive order requiring full implementation of the Supreme Court's 1999 Olmstead Decision. Olmstead and the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate that disabled persons who can receive support and treatment in a community setting should be given a reasonable opportunity to live close to their families and friends, when appropriate.
The executive order directs key federal agencies, like the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Justice and the Social Security Administration, to work with states to implement the Olmstead decision and ADA.
Loud applause erupted again when Bush said the order "directs Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson to fully enforce Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and ensure that no one is unjustly institutionalized."
The landmark Supreme Court ruling in the Olmstead vs. L.S. and F.W. case on June 22, 1999, involved a lawsuit filed by Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, who were living in a Georgia psychiatric hospital. In a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said a state may not discriminate against psychiatric patients by keeping them in hospitals instead of community homes. The court said the Americans with Disabilities Act may require that states provide treatment in community-based programs rather than in a segregated setting.
Bush's executive order also directs those agencies to explore how to increase community-based services for people with disabilities.
"The Olmstead executive order will increase freedom for people with disabilities," Bush said. "Americans must have the opportunity to live independently, work productively and participate fully in community life." This includes allowing many people with disabilities to buy their own homes, he said.