Today, I am signing S. 933, the "Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990." In this extraordinary year, we have seen our own Declaration of Independence inspire the march of freedom throughout Eastern Europe. It is altogether fitting that the American people have once again given clear expression to our most basic ideals of freedom and equality. The Americans with Disabilities Act represents the full flowering of our democratic principles, and it gives me great pleasure to sign it into law today.
In 1986, on behalf of President Reagan, I personally accepted a report from the National Council on Disability entitled "Toward Independence." In that report, the National Council recommended the enactment of comprehensive legislation to ban discrimination against persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is such legislation. It promises to open up all aspects of American life to individuals with disabilities -- employment opportunities, government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
This legislation is comprehensive because the barriers faced by individuals with disabilities are wide-ranging. Existing laws and regulations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 have been effective with respect to the Federal Government, its contractors, and the recipients of Federal funds. However, they have left broad areas of American life untouched or inadequately addressed. Many of our young people, who have benefited from the equal educational opportunity guaranteed under the Rehabilitation Act and the Education of the Handicapped Act, have found themselves on graduation day still shut out of the mainstream of American life. They have faced persistent discrimination in the workplace and barriers posed by inaccessible public transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
Fears that the ADA is too vague or too costly and will lead to an explosion of litigation are misplaced. The Administration worked closely with the Congress to ensure that, wherever possible, existing language and standards from the Rehabilitation Act were incorporated into the ADA. The Rehabilitation Act standards are already familiar to large segments of the private sector that are either Federal contractors or recipients of Federal funds. Because the Rehabilitation Act was enacted 17 years ago, there is already an extensive body of law interpreting the requirements of that Act. Employers can turn to these interpretations for guidance on how to meet their obligations under the ADA.
The Administration and the Congress have carefully crafted the ADA to give the business community the flexibility to meet the requirements of the Act without incurring undue costs. Cost may be taken into account in determining how an employee is "reasonably accommodated," whether the removal of a barrier is "readily achievable," or whether the provision of a particular auxiliary aid would result in an "undue burden." The ADA's most rigorous access requirements are reserved for new construction where the added costs of accessible features are minimal in relation to overall construction costs. An elevator exemption is provided for many buildings.
The careful balance struck between the rights of individuals with disabilities and the legitimate interests of business is shown in the various phase-in provisions in the ADA. For example, the employment provisions take effect 2 years from today for employers of 25 or more employees. Four years from today that coverage will be extended to employers with 15 - 24 employees. These phase-in periods and effective dates will permit adequate time for businesses to become acquainted with the ADA's requirements and to take the necessary steps to achieve compliance.
The ADA recognizes the necessity of educating the public about its rights and responsibilities under the Act. Under the ADA, the Attorney General will oversee Government-wide technical assistance activities. The Department of Justice will consult with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission, the National Council on Disability, and the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, among others, in the effort. We will involve trade associations, advocacy groups, and other similar organizations that have existing lines of communications with covered entities and persons with disabilities. The participation of these organizations is a key element in assuring the success of the technical assistance effort.
In signing this landmark bill, I pledge the full support of my Administration for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a great honor to preside over the implementation of the responsibilities conferred on the executive branch by this Act. I pledge that we will fulfill those responsibilities efficiently and vigorously.
The Americans with Disabilities Act presents us all with an historic opportunity. It signals the end to the unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life. As the Declaration of Independence has been a beacon for people all over the world seeking freedom, it is my hope that the Americans with Disabilities Act will likewise come to be a model for the choices and opportunities of future generations around the world.
The White House,
July 26, 1990.