Public Papers

Remarks Commemorating the First Anniversary of the Signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990


First, may I greet the distinguished Members of Congress here in the front rows, thank them for coming, thank them for their interest in the passage of this important legislation we're here to celebrate today, but also in their interest in following up on it. May I greet, also, the Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, and our Secretary of HHS Lou Sullivan and the Vice President, of course. He and I welcome you to the Rose Garden. And may I salute the other guests that are with us. And a special thanks today to the men and women from our business community. American corporations, you see, are a vital part of this team, and your support of the ADA is critical to its success.

One year ago, I stood over there -- many of you present -- on the South Lawn. And I will never -- literally, never -- forget that sight or certainly the emotional feeling I felt on that day. Thousands of people from across the country had come to celebrate the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country.

And while people felt a justifiable sense of triumph last year, you also could see a feeling of eager impatience. After all, the signing of the ADA didn't mark the end of a long struggle; it marked, really, a beginning.

Some of you here today joined me on the South Lawn, as I mentioned, a year ago, and we've made tremendous advances since that ceremony. We've introduced changes that will transform people's worlds. The ADA has also helped us -- all of us -- to understand a little bit more about ourselves. It reminds us that along with the privilege of being an American comes a duty: to recognize and defend the rights of every American.

This bill does more than make the American dream of equality a reality for 43 million Americans with disabilities. It offers, in a sense, fresh testimony to our Nation's greatness. It demonstrates how we can advance the cause of civil rights. It shows what can happen when we work together, drawing upon the fundamental decency of the American people.

The quest for civil rights is not a zero-sum game. It shouldn't mean advancing some at the expense of others. The quest for civil rights is a quest for individual rights and equal opportunity and it's a crusade to throw open the doors of opportunity and tear down the walls of bigotry.

The ADA works because it calls upon the best in the American people, and then Americans respond. It works because it embodies what must be at the heart of all civil rights struggles: the spirit of inclusiveness, the devotion to individual rights and equal opportunity. That devotion runs deep in our Nation. We are the land or opportunity and always have been.

Our Constitution and our courts pledge equal protection under the law. But equally important, our people believe in legal equality -- and many try to broaden opportunity in little ways, by reaching out to capable people and giving them a chance -- giving them a fair chance.

America must be a country where the sons and daughters of poverty have the same grasp on the American dream as the children of privilege. And it must be a land where a child can overcome any obstacle and fulfill his or her own potential.

We see this promise fulfilled by a man I presented to this Nation 4 weeks ago. And we can be proud to live in a country whose highest Court will include a man who understands the importance of basic American values: tolerance, industry, and decency. And I'm speaking, of course, of my nominee to the Court, Clarence Thomas.

While Judge Thomas was at the EEOC, he compiled an excellent record on disability issues, with which I hope all of you are familiar. But his life illustrates the principle that inspires all civil rights bills: the principle that we must throw open the doors of opportunity to everyone. And this spirit should guide us as we pursue all civil rights legislation, for our greatest strength lies in our ability to work together and honor the shared values we treasure.

We have worked together this last year. And in so doing, we've understood more fully just how much people with disabilities have to offer. We've demonstrated that social progress includes economic growth and that both play essential roles in the American dream. Businesses support the ADA because it gives everyone a chance to be productive in the workplace. It broadens our economic mainstream. It enables society to benefit from the wisdom, energy, and industry of people who want just one thing, a fair chance.

And while we've made a strong start, we have much to do. As long as the doors of opportunity are closed to even one American we must keep working at it.

The passage of the ADA, the world's first declaration of equality for people with disabilities, made this country the international leader on this human rights issue. And now the world is watching to see how we use this act, how we remove the physical barriers we've created and the social barriers that we've accepted. Our success or failure in keeping the promise of the ADA will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people with disabilities, not just here in the United States but throughout the world.

Our challenges remain great, but our will is even greater. In America -- the most generous, optimistic Nation on the face of the Earth -- we will not rest until every man and woman and child with a dream has a fair chance to realize it.

Most of this work will be done by individual Americans acting day by day to increase tolerance and understanding. But the ADA also required five Federal Agencies to come up with implementation regulation or guidelines. These regulations -- relating to employment, public accommodation, transportation, and communications -- are key to the full implementation of ADA. And so I'm proud to announce that most of these Federal regs will be issued today.

All guidelines required of the Department of Justice, the EEOC, the FCC are in final form, and those regarding transportation will be issued soon. I want to thank the people of the executive branch who have worked so hard to make the ADA a reality.

And in addition, today I'm issuing a memorandum to Federal Departments and Agencies. And it directs them to recruit people with disabilities as Federal employees and to ensure that Americans with disabilities have access to Federal programs. The Federal Government must serve as a model employer for the rest of the Nation.

And again, thank you all so very much for your work, for your dedication, and for your devotion and your steadfast faith and, to many here, for your inspiring example. And may God bless you all. And thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 10:04 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.