Obama on Disability Employment Awareness
It's a pleasure for me to join you in celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Americans with disabilities are an essential and underutilized part of our workforce. As President, I will work hard to help you achieve full equality—in the workplace, in education, and in all aspects of life.
I don't have to tell you the dismal statistics—an employment rate 40 points below that of working-age individuals without disabilities and a federal failure to meet the disability employment targets of Executive Order 13173.
This must change—and I know that it can. Because I know that we can change it. One of the most important measures of any society is how well it enables each person to live up to his or her potential. Fairness is important, but providing you with the supports and services so you can succeed goes beyond that—it goes to the heart of our nation's future. Because in an era of intense global competition, we can't afford not to put everyone to work. You shouldn't be locked out of the workplace. Children with disabilities shouldn't be languishing in failing schools that doom them to a life of second class citizenship. Your talents and energies must not go to waste.
America faces great challenges right now and we won't meet them without the help of everyone who can work. It's that simple. That's why it is long past time for us to break down the barriers that still exclude people with disabilities in this country and deprive you of true equality of opportunity and independence.
One of the first places we need change is in the workplace, and the federal government should take the lead. That's why my administration will be a model for other employers in hiring and accommodating employees with disabilities. Before leaving office, President Clinton issued Executive Order No. 13173, which mandated hiring an additional 100,000 federal employees with disabilities within five years. Eight years later, this goal still hasn't been reached. I will reinstate this executive order early in my term as President and designate a senior White House official to assure that all federal departments and agencies do their part to help meet this goal. I will also vigorously enforce the Rehabilitation Act, including Section 503 requiring the federal government and employers who are federal contractors to "take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities."
In addition, I will launch an aggressive effort to educate employers about tax benefits designed to encourage them to hire employees with disabilities, such as the Disabled Access Tax Credit, the Tax Deduction for Architectural and Transportation Barrier Removal, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. They are underused and our employers can't afford to miss out on these benefits any longer.
These actions will help many adults with disabilities increase their contributions to our society, and I believe we must do even more for the next generation. That's why I will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and ensure that it is effectively implemented and enforced.
This is a pivotal election, and it's our time for change. I hope you'll get involved, because I can't do this alone. I need everyone to contact their friends and family to make sure they know about the issues and where the candidates stand. I need everyone who can to make phone calls and knock on doors to get the word out. Together, we can win this election. Together, we can achieve full equality for Americans with disabilities. Together, we can create the changes we seek.