Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark civil rights legislation that broke down age-old barriers to equality for millions of Americans with disabilities. In the two decades since, we have learned that equal access for people with disabilities—to services, employment, buildings and programs—is best protected by thorough integration of their needs into ordinary, day-to-day activities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promotes that integration every day, through all our components and activities. Some examples:
- DHS makes determined efforts to remove barriers to employment for people with disabilities; the result is that over 8,000 DHS employees report that they have a disability. This fiscal year so far, DHS has hired nearly 500 veterans with disabilities. Our work in this area includes outreach, targeted internships, special hiring events, and training of hiring managers.
- Government websites relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have, by the efforts of employees across DHS, been made entirely accessible to people with disabilities.
- Working through Department of Defense leadership, CRCL offers training to military commanders during the Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) in emergencies. Our training focuses on disability as well as other civil rights issues. In 2010, we provided training to 120 National Guard commanders.
- If members of the public have disability-related complaints, CRCL runs a fair and effective process to address those complaints and learn from them going forward. As a result of CRCL recommendations, over the past year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection initiated an action plan to ensure equal access for travelers with disabilities at both the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa Ports of Entry. Not only did CBP install new benches, new signage, and accessible water fountains and restrooms, it took the next step of instituting training requirements for all supervisory CBP officers nationwide on providing reasonable accommodations, and issued a directive with specific guidance on processing individuals with health concerns and/or disabilities.
- CRCL and the DHS Chief Information Officer jointly created the Office of Accessible Systems & Technology (OAST), which provides IT-related reasonable accommodation recommendations for employees with disabilities. Training and technical assistance is provided to support the employee and enhance his or her job performance. OAST operates a DHS Accessibility Help Desk, a single point of entry for disability-related services and technical assistance for employees and customers of DHS. OAST works with the developers of hundreds of web and software applications used here at DHS to improve accessibility of their products.
- Staff from the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties drafted Executive Order 13347, Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness (PDF, 4 pages - 92 KB), which went into effect in July 2004. Since the inception of the Executive Order, the Secretary of Homeland Security has designated the CRCL Officer to chair the resulting Interagency Coordinating Council (ICC), and CRCL works with the Council and with FEMA to incorporate the needs and perspectives of people with myriad disabilities—visual and hearing impairments, mobility impairments, intellectual disabilities, etc.—into emergency-related policies and procedures. Most recently, the ICC's focus has been on helping shape the National Disaster Recovery Framework to ensure individuals with disabilities are fully integrated into planning efforts and have access to vital services to support their living, learning, and working during long-term community recovery.
Through these and other efforts, we work at DHS every day to live up the civil rights promise of the ADA.
Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties