Public Papers

Statement by Press Secretary Fitzwater on Proposed Civil Rights Legislation for Disabled Americans


The administration has reached a consensus with key Senators from both parties on legislation that would expand the reach of this country's civil rights laws to include disabled Americans. This will be landmark legislation not only for the 37 million Americans with some form of disability but for all Americans, demonstrating, as the President said in his Inaugural Address, that ``this is the age of the offered hand.''

The President endorses this legislation as the vehicle to fulfill the challenge he offered in his February 9 address to the Nation: ``Disabled Americans must become full partners in America's opportunity society.'' The President has pursued a commonsense approach, seeking a practical bill that will help the disabled reach their full potential. He is committed to producing a bill that can be signed this year.

The discussions have resulted in an agreement we expect to be reflected in today's markup in the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agreement provides for:

-- Federal protection for the disabled against discrimination in the workplace, paralleling existing protections that apply to entities that receive Federal funds. The requirement would initially apply to employers of 25 or more and phase down to employers of 15 or more. Covered employers would have to make reasonable accommodation to disabled persons.

-- Prohibition of discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations. The agreement adopts a broad definition of public accommodations, including restaurants, stores, and health care providers. Public accommodations would be required to make readily achievable alterations to existing facilities to accommodate the disabled. This legislation is designed to achieve access for the disabled in the most efficient manner, with emphasis on making new buildings accessible.

-- Enforcement of the new protections through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and suits seeking injunctive relief.

The President is committed to bringing persons with disabilities into the mainstream, including full participation and access to all aspects of society. He wants to do this through a framework that allows for maximum flexibility to implement effective solutions, builds on existing law to avoid unnecessary confusion and litigation, and attains these goals without imposing undue burdens. The President believes this can be accomplished by using reasonable measures, phased over time, as this legislation does.

We are pleased that substantial progress has been made. We will continue to analyze the full ramifications of the legislation and look forward to working with the Senate and the House to complete the legislative process this year.