President Barack Obama marked Monday's 20th anniversary of a landmark anti-discrimination law for people with disabilities by promising to boost government efforts at recruiting, hiring and retaining people with physical and mental limitations.
In a sun-splashed ceremony on the White House South Lawn, Obama signed an executive order requiring the federal personnel agency to develop model guidelines for hiring people with disabilities, and announced a series of other measures:
- The Justice Department is publishing new rules to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities by more than 80,000 state and local government agencies and 7 million private businesses.
- Beginning in 2012, all new construction must meet enhanced design standards for doors, windows, elevators and bathrooms. The requirement covers everything from stores and restaurants to schools, stadiums, hospitals, hotels and theaters.
- New federal rules are being drafted to ensure people with disabilities better access to websites.
"Not dependence, but independence," Obama said. "That's what the (disabilities law) was all about."
The Americans with Disabilities Act became law on July 26, 1990, signed by President George H.W. Bush to ban workplace discrimination against qualified people with disabilities and require improved access to public places and transportation.
Bush was unable to attend Monday's ceremony, but he and Obama spoke by telephone before the event.
"He was very humble about his own role but I think it's worth acknowledging the great work that he did," Obama said.
The ceremony, attended by White House officials, Cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, grass roots leaders and people with disabilities, featured a reading by actress Marlee Matlin, who is deaf, and an emotional performance by singer Patti LaBelle. Matlin was assisted by a sign language interpreter.
Obama also met before the ceremony with a group of lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., who is paralyzed from the chest down. On Monday, Langevin presided over the House for the first time. Obama singled out him out for praise.
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