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Government Action on Disability Policy
A Global Survey
Part II - Government Replies as Country Profiles
United States of America
Download 'Government Reports on the UN Standard Rules' as a PDF file (440 KB)
© Dimitris Michailakis 1997
The disability policy in U.S.A is expressed in law. The National Disability Council (NCD), in an explanatory note, adds the following: although there is no comprehensive, officially recognized disability policy in the United States, a number of de facto disability policy statements concerning specific areas. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) there are by many embraced as the official policy of the Federal Government. There are several other laws containing disability policy. The strongest emphasis - in descending scale - is on: anti-discrimination law, individual support, accessibility measures, rehabilitation, prevention.
Measures conveying the message of full participation have been initiated. For example, technical assistance is provided in several formats, such as training programmes, information materials and brochures, grants and resource centres. These services are provided by several agencies. Additionally, in an effort to highlight the importance of the Standard Rules, NCD in 1993 issued a report to the President of the United States entitled, Progress in Advancing the Status of People with Disabilities Around the World: The Work of the United States Delegation to the Thirty-Third Session of the Commission for Social Development of the United States.
The rights of persons with disabilities are protected by a combination of special and general legislation. The judicial mechanisms available to people with disabilities for the protection of their rights include: due process (legal remedy through courts) and recourse procedure by a special agency dealing with anti-discrimination issues. Non-judicial mechanisms include: an Ombudsman, a Governmental body (administrative), and a special arbitration/conciliation body.
The general legislation applies to persons with disabilities with respect to: education, employment, the right to marriage, the right to parenthood/family, political rights, access to court-of-law, right to privacy, property rights. The following benefits are guaranteed by law to persons with disabilities: health/medical care and financial security. Benefits such as training, rehabilitation and counselling, employment, independent living, participation in decisions affecting them are not guaranteed by law. The NCD adds the following explanation: Some people with disabilities, notably of low income or permanently disabled, receive medical benefits as an entitlement. Many other people with disabilities are, however, denied access to health care or have difficulties in retaining the benefit. Maintenance programmes, as to income, exists for those who qualify. However, the persons with ability to work or earn more than the minimum amount will lose entitlement to such programmes.
The following legislation has been enacted since the adoption of the Rules: The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requiring telecommunication manufacturers and service providers to ensure that such equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily available. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1993 also benefits people with disabilities.
Laws and regulations ensuring accessibility in the build environment establish standards requiring that public places, the outdoor environment, land, sea, and air transportation, and housing are made accessible. National authorities and local Governments are reviewing the operation of accessibility standards. The following measures have been promoted to facilitate accessibility in the build environment: levelling off pavements, marking parking areas, installing automatic doors, lifts, accessible toilets, ensuring access to public places, improving accessibility in housing, financial incentives for accessibility measures, when building and renovating housing, providing financial support for the costs of adapting private buildings to the needs of persons with disabilities, installing special lighting, contrast colours and Braille for visually impaired, flashing signals and audio-loop for deaf and hard of hearing persons. Most people with disabilities pay the same fares as others, however there are some free and discount fares available. Special transport arrangements for persons with disabilities are available for the purpose of medical treatment, education, work, and recreational purpose. When planning to build accessible environments the most difficult obstacles are: attitudinal factors, economic/budgetary factors, lack of planning and design capacity, lack of knowledge research and information, lack of enforcement mechanism and shortage of resources for enforcement. There is a disability awareness component incorporated in the training of planners, architects and construction engineers.
Sign language is not recognized as the official language of deaf people, and is not used as the first language in education of deaf people. But, it is recognized as the main means of communication between deaf people and others. There are Government measures to make media and other forms of public information services available for disabled people. For instance, providing Braille, television captioning, and interpreting services. The following services are provided in order to facilitate information and communication between persons with disabilities and other persons: literature in Braille/tape, news magazines on tape/Braille, sign language interpretation for any purpose, easy readers for persons with mental disabilities. The NCD states that all of the mentioned services are available, but not always accessible.
Organizations of persons with disabilities
There is no official national umbrella organization of persons with disabilities. Several groups could however be considered as leaders in their field such as the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the National Council on Independent Living. Some laws are requiring representatives of persons with disabilities to participate in policy-making and to work with Governmental institutions. Many others do not have these requirements. For example, NCD is by law required to have a majority of members being persons with disabilities. There is a continuing pressure to include people with disabilities in new laws. Disability organizations are often consulted when laws with a disability aspect are being prepared. This occurs at both national, regional and local level. The Government supports existing and new organizations of persons with disabilities, by providing technical support in the form of discretionary funds and grants, in order to assist organizations of disabled people. Disabled persons participate to a very limited extent in legislature and judiciary and to some extent in Government, political parties and NGOs. The disabled persons' organizations have the role to: advocate rights, mobilize persons with disabilities, identify needs and priorities, participate in the planning, implementation and evaluation of services and measures, contribute to public awareness, provide services, and promote/organize income generating activities. In addition, the NCD states that their impact on cultural arts and media has just started.
Co-ordination of work
NCD serves as a national co-ordinating committee. However, there are several other organizations, including the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD), and the President's Committee on Mental Retardation (PCMR), also recognized as very important. NCD reports to the President and the Congress. PCEPD and PCMR report to the President. The committees include representatives of persons with disabilities, other NGOs and private sector. However, participation varies according to each committee. The Government expects the NCD to participate in policy development. The current statutory mandate of NCD includes the following: reviewing and evaluating, on a continuing basis, policies, programmes, practices and procedures concerning individuals with disabilities. This includes the need for and co-ordination of adult services, access to personal assistance services, school reform efforts, and the impact of such efforts on individuals with disabilities, access for health care, and policies that operate as disincentives for the individuals to seek and retain employment. The mandate also includes making recommendations, providing advice, preparing legislation, gathering information etc. The NCD has had the following effects: improved co-ordination of measures/programmes, improved legislation, a better dialogue in the disability field, more accurate planning, more effective use of resources, and promotion of public awareness.
Since the Standard Rules were adopted, after the major U.S. disability Act (ADA) having been enacted, they are being used concurrently with a rethinking.