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On February 1, 2001, within two weeks of taking office, President Bush announced his New Freedom Initiative and laid out a bold plan to tear down the stubborn barriers to equality that confront many of the 54 million Americans with disabilities. He did so with the knowledge that:
The New Freedom Initiative is a commitment to address these barriers and others through programs and proposals that increase development of and access to assistive and universally designed technologies, expand educational opportunities, further integrate Americans with disabilities into the workforce, and help remove barriers to full participation in community life.
In the past 15 months, the Administration has taken many steps toward fulfillment of New Freedom Initiative goals. The President secured funding for many of the New Freedom Initiatives important programs in the FY 2002 budget process.
Among the highlights is the Presidents Executive Order 13217, Community-based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities, directing his agencies to swiftly implement the Supreme Courts Olmstead decision. The Executive Order charged six agencies - the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Education, Labor, and Housing and Urban Development, and the Social Security Administration - with evaluating their agency policies and programs to determine whether any should be revised to improve the availability of community-based services for qualified individuals with disabilities.
In December 2001, these agencies, joined by the Departments of Transportation and Veterans Affairs and the Office of Personnel Management, presented a preliminary report, "Delivering on the Promise."The agencies released the complete reports in March 2002, outlining over 400 solutions in areas such as housing, education, personal attendant services, employment, health care structure and financing, caregiver support, and technology to make community living possible.
Following the February 2001 New Freedom Initiative announcement, numerous Cabinet members and agency heads embraced the New Freedom Initiative mission, introducing additional activities that helped to advance the objectives of the Initiative. For example, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced a series of grants to promote community living. Department of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao established a Youth Advisory Committee to improve employment for youth with disabilities. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Project Action hosted a dialogue with transit industry executives and disability leaders to increase accessible transportation. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Cari Dominguez created a series of workshops to assist small businesses in recruiting and hiring people with disabilities. When the President voiced his strong support of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires that electronic and information technology purchased by the government be usable by people with disabilities, many agencies quickly formalized plans to institute the standards and expedite implementation.
More work remains to be done. Breaking down persistent barriers in employment, transportation, housing, and community access requires sustained, aggressive, coordinated measures nothing short of, in the Presidents words, a "revolution of independence." With the commitment and resources of the Cabinet, and through new agency and private sector partnerships, the President will continue the campaign to advance the full and equal participation of people with disabilities.
The President proposed increases in the FY 2002 budget totaling $1.38 billion to fund New Freedom Initiative programs. Congress often supported the Presidents priorities by funding his initiatives. For FY 2003, the President has proposed increases of $1.39 billion for New Freedom Initiative funding. The Administration will continue to work with Congress to see that the New Freedom Initiative commitments are implemented and that its proposals are realized.