The President's New Freedom Initiative: The 2007 Progress Report
The President’s New Freedom Initiative for People with Disabilities: The 2007 Progress Report
Announced in February, 2001, the New Freedom Initiative is President George W. Bush’s plan to tear down barriers to full integration into American life that remain for many of the 54 million Americans with disabilities. This report highlights the many accomplishments of the Administration in implementing the President’s vision and builds upon the reports issued in May 2002 and May 2004.
Increasing Access Through Technology
The President recognizes the power of assistive and universally designed technology to create greater access to the workplace, school, and community life for persons with disabilities. The Administration supports the development of creative ways to leverage the power of new technologies and the removal of financial barriers to acquisition of assistive technology. The Administration has:
Empowered states to develop plans for acquisition of assistive technology through the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 Amendments, signed in October 2004;
Aided state efforts to incorporate assistive technology into their education programs;
Streamlined accessibility standards for voting machines and other important technological advances;
Provided grants to various agencies to develop and stimulate technological advances;
Brought together a variety of agencies and organizations to better understand the need for assistive technologies and to discuss ways to make the technology a usable reality;
Advanced the President’s Executive Order centralizing electronic information of use to the disability community at www.DisabilityInfo.gov;
Continued full implementation of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, making electronic and information technology acquired by the Federal government accessible to people with disabilities; and
Worked to develop a robust assistive technology industry at home and abroad.
Expanding Educational Opportunities for Youth with Disabilities
The President recognizes that people with disabilities need a complete and appropriate education in order to join their communities as equal members. In order to further this goal and ensure that no child with a disability is left behind in the educational system, the President has:
Emphasized the importance of including youth with disabilities in the annual improvement mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Agencies have responded to the President’s direction and furthered his agenda in the following ways:
The Department of Education has issued final regulations implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, established the Teacher Assistance Corps, monitored the first annual state progress determinations under the IDEA, and launched various other initiatives;
The Department of Health and Human Services has made specific efforts to reduce youth recidivism, homelessness, institutionalization, and other factors that inhibit a full and complete educational experience and that may disproportionately effect youth with disabilities; and
The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has promoted voluntary compliance with applicable civil rights laws relating to students with disabilities, including fostering classroom inclusion and limiting references to disability on report cards, and has also developed other civil rights initiatives.
Integrating Americans with Disabilities into the Workforce
The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities, while falling, remains unacceptably high. The President believes that full inclusion of persons with disabilities into the workforce is an important goal not only because of the positive impact this will have on the worker, but also because of the benefits to the economy as a whole as production increases and people begin to leave government assistance. The Administration has:
Sought to increase the number of employees with disabilities in the Federal workforce by implementing innovative hiring and working practices, including telework; by revising Schedule A hiring authority; and by forming new disability coordinating councils to address employment within federal agencies;
Established new initiatives integrating the efforts of the Justice, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs Departments in advancing training and employment for persons with disabilities;
Released “Disability Employment 101” companion materials with the collaboration of the Justice and Education Departments;
Vigorously enforced the Americans with Disabilities Act;
Begun implementation of the “Ticket to Work” program as part of the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs to eliminate work disincentives among persons with disabilities; and
Reached out to individuals with disabilities and employers to facilitate productive employment opportunities.
Promoting Full Access to Community Life
The President believes that all Americans deserve an opportunity to become a part of the American dream: to vote, to participate in the marketplace, to own their own property, and to go about their business free of attitudinal and architectural barriers to full participation. This commitment includes implementation of the Olmstead decision affirming the right of persons with disabilities to live in their own communities, and goes further by creating new initiatives to promote community participation. The Administration has:
Instituted the "Money Follows the Person" grant program through the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes $1.75 billion to support states in building Medicaid programs that enable recipients to live in their communities;
Won a number of Title II and Title III victories under the Americans with Disabilities Act, successfully defended the constitutionality of the ADA before the Supreme Court, and worked with employers to ensure voluntary compliance with its provisions;
Established the twenty-agency Interagency Council on Homelessness to seek innovative policy solutions to the high homelessness rate among people with disabilities.;
Increased transportation options by securing disability provisions in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act, and worked with the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility to simplify access to reasonable transportation options for all;
Improved access to housing for all through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and the Architectural Barriers Act;
Issued an ADA checklist for polling places and administered the Voting Access for Individuals with Disabilities project;
Improved access to healthcare with the Medicare Prescription Drug Program, and sought to increase accessibility of healthcare for the elderly, minorities, and other at-risk populations, including people with disabilities; and
Taken numerous steps to modernize emergency preparedness plans and standards for persons with disabilities, including appointing a new director of disability preparedness at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The President’s vision for people with disabilities is not yet achieved, and continuing to implement the provisions of his New Freedom Initiative remains one of his highest domestic priorities. The Administration, through the programs outlined in this document and others, will aggressively pursue innovative strategies to ensure that people with disabilities are included in the American Dream, and empowered to reach their full educational, social, and professional goals.