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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Tracy R. Justesen
Associate Director for the Domestic Policy Council

The New Freedom Initiative

October 18, 2004

Tracy R. Justesen

Hi, I'm Tracy Justesen. Good to be here today. Ready to take your questions.

Jack, from Bellingham writes:
My daughter has been in special education since she was in kindergarten.

She is now in the 4th grade. Last year she took the state test along with all the other kids and it was a disaster She cried and cried because she couldn't answer any of the questions. The school said the federal government is making them test all students. This is not fair and I am thinking of keeping my daughter home from school when they test this year. Why should I put my daughter through this??

Tracy R. Justesen
I can certainly understand how upsetting and frustrating the testing situation must have been for you and your daughter last year. The purpose of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), is to ensure that schools are accountable for all children, including children with disabilities. In the past, schools did not include children with disabilities in testing and we did not know whether, or how much, children were benefiting from school. It is important that all children participate in state testing so that schools know how they are doing in educating children and can make changes when necessary to ensure that all children, including children with disabilities, reach high standards.

Participating in the state test does not mean that all children take the same test. It is not “one size fits all.” NCLB and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), require that your daughter’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team determine how she will participate in statewide testing. The IEP Team determines whether she takes the regular assessment with or without accommodations, or whether she participates in an alternate assessment. Testing accommodations may include giving your daughter extra time to take the test, having her take the test in a quiet area, or having some parts of the test read to her. The school will have a list of the accommodations that are allowable on the state test so that the IEP team can make an informed decision about what accommodations, if any, are needed.

The IEP team may also decide that your daughter’s abilities would best be determined by participating in an alternate assessment. An alternate assessment may be used when a child can best demonstrate what he or she knows through means other than a sit-down, paper and pencil test. The educational professionals on your daughter’s IEP team can describe the alternate assessment(s) used in your school district.

As you know, you are a member of your daughter’s IEP team and are vitally important in making decisions about your daughter’s education. This includes decisions about how she will participate in statewide testing so that the results are meaningful and can be used to ensure that she has the help and support she needs to reach her full potential.

Lyndsey, from Baltimore writes:
My wife and I have a small child with cerebral palsy. He has grown too big for my wife to lift him and put him into the car and back out when she needs to take him places. Is there a program to help us buy a van that will lift his wheelchair with him in it?

Tracy R. Justesen
One of the key components of the President’s New Freedom Initiative is his effort to increase access through technology for people with disabilities by helping to put assistive technology into the hands of people with disabilities. In fiscal year 2005, the President requested $15 million dollars to help fund a loan program for people with disabilities to purchase assistive technologies such as vans that are equipped with platforms lifts so that people can remain in their wheelchairs without the need to transfer every time they travel. This program matches state dollars with federal dollars to create alternative financing mechanisms, such as low interest and long-term loans. The Maryland Assistive Technology Program is based in Baltimore. I suggest you contact them for more information.

Jasmine, from Fargo writes:
How has the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA made a difference for people with disabilities?

Tracy R. Justesen
Jasmine, thank you for your question—it’s a great one! The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA is a landmark civil rights law that has opened our communities to more fully include people with disabilities. The ADA has created improved access for qualified people with disabilities to employment, removed barriers to participation in state and local government services and programs, helped make public accommodations such as movie theaters, hotels, and restaurants accessible, and the ADA created accessible transportation services, among other things.

The President supports the ADA and his Department of Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have developed new and innovative ways to educate employers, people with disabilities, and others about the benefits and importance of the ADA. For example, the Department of Justice created the “ADA Business Connection,” a project to bring about increased compliance with the ADA by fostering a better understanding of the ADA requirements among the business community. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission started a project called the “New Freedom Initiative Small Business Workshop” that has given more than fifty free workshops for businesses about the ADA.

Ellen, from Racine writes:
I am worried about my 2 year old son who is not talking. He says a few words that I understand, but the rest of it is very mixed up and sounds like jibberish. My pediatrician says that he will grow out of it and that boys are just slower to talk than girls. One of my friends said that I should have someone else look at him and said something about early intervention programs. Where would I find information about early intervention programs? Are they expensive?

Tracy R. Justesen
Ellen, parents know their children best. If you are worried about your son, it is important that you follow your instincts. We know that the earlier children receive help, the better they do. If you have concerns about your son not talking like other children his age, you should have him seen by early intervention professionals. Each state has a system to identify children who may need early intervention services. Early intervention professionals can evaluate your son and determine whether he needs service. They may check his hearing, his understanding of language, and how he says specific sounds and words. Based on the evaluation, and in consultation with you, early intervention professionals can refer you to a program in your community where he can receive services. They can also give you suggestions on how to help your son build his language skills. Early intervention services including evaluation, assessment and service coordination are provided to eligible infants and toddlers and their families at no cost. Federal funds under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are used, along with state funds to provide these services. The early intervention professionals that you work with can provide you with more information about this.

Crystal, from Sarasota writes:
I am a capable women with a college education who, after a serious car accident, now needs to use a wheelchair, accessible van, and other things to work effectively. I have not worked for a few years, but I would like to get a federal government job and I don't know how to go about getting one. Are there any special ways a handicapped person can get a federal government job?

Tracy R. Justesen
Crystal, thank you for your question. First, let me congratulate you on your desire to embark on a career of public service as a federal government employee. I am a federal government employee and it has been a rewarding and challenging opportunity.

The President recognizes the talents people with disabilities have and he welcomes all qualified people with disabilities to federal service. I encourage you to go to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Web site and read the information under the topic, Employment of People with Disabilities that can be found at The Office of Personnel Management reaches out to talented people with disabilities like you who are interested in federal service.

Rene, from Ontario, CA writes:
I want to fly on an airplane can I take my wheelchair with me?

Tracy R. Justesen
Thank you for your question, Rene. The Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, as amended, makes it unlawful for domestic and foreign air carriers to prevent qualified people from taking wheelchairs with them when traveling by plane. The requirements of the law provide for accommodations such as boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities. The U.S. Department of Transportation operates a toll-free hotline for the aviation consumer with a disability. The numbers are 1-800-778-4838 (voice) or 1-800-455-9880 (TTY).

Duncan, from St. Paul writes:
Since this month is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, what specifically has the President done to get people with disabilities jobs?

Tracy R. Justesen
Duncan, good to hear from you and this question is perfect. One of the key parts of the President’s New Freedom Initiative is his plan to expand employment opportunities and fully integrate people with disabilities into the workplace. The President accomplishments in this regard are very real and meaningful for people with disabilities. Following are some of the President’s accomplishments. The President established the Access to Telework Fund program to allow people with disabilities to work from home or from other remote sites away from the office. Under this program, people with disabilities, their families, advocates, and other authorized representatives will have increased access to computers and other equipment, including adaptive equipment, through state programs that offer alternative financing mechanisms. The Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs are conducting a two-year study to evaluate the extend and manner in which various home-based telework/telecommunicating arrangements, including call center and medical transcription services, can enhance the employment of people with disabilities. The President continues to support in his FY 2005 budget a proposal allowing individuals to exclude from taxable income the value of computers, software, and other equipment provided by their employers for telecommuting. The President also vigorously promoted implementation of the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act or Ticket to Work. Under the Ticket to Work program, eligible individuals receiving Social Security and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits due to disability or blindness receive a ticket that they may use to obtain vocational rehabilitation services, employment services, or other support services from an employment network or a state vocational rehabilitation agency of their choice. The Social Security Administration and the Department of Labor established Ticket to Hire, a free national employer referral service to help beneficiaries participating in the Ticket to Work program find work. Ticket to Hire links employment networks and state vocational rehabilitation agencies servicing job-ready Ticket beneficiaries to employers who are seek qualified candidates for positions.

Kristin, from Pascagoula writes:
I am blind and I have a guide dog. I have been told that I can't take her into restaurants with me. Is this true?

Tracy R. Justesen
This question cuts to the heart of civil rights for people who use guide dogs and other service animals. Private establishments such as restaurants must allow you to enter with your service animal and take advantage of the services offered by the restaurant in the same way services are provided to customers who do not use service animals. Your service animal is a necessary tool for you to access whatever environment you are in and, as such, you have a right to eat at restaurants of your choice with your service animal present.

Rich, from Cleveland area writes:
I am in my last year of high school and I was born with a condition that limits use of my legs and arms. I can walk but the doctors tell me that some day I probably will be confined to a wheelchair. I want to go to college and have a normal life just like everybody else. My family is not rich, my parents never went to college, and I dont see any opportunities for me to be like everybody else. What will happen to me?

Tracy R. Justesen
Thank you for the question, Rich. There are many opportunities for you to achieve your goal of going to college. The vocational rehabilitation program provides people with disabilities the opportunity to obtain employment and live more independently. Consistent with the President's New Freedom Initiative, vocational rehabilitation programs provide such supports as education and training to prepare for work and assistance in finding jobs that match your interests and education. I assume you are writing from Ohio. The Ohio program has offices located throughout the state. To find the nearest vocational rehabilitation office to you contact the main office in Columbus at 614-466-7890.

If you are eligible, Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI) could supplement your income as a support to provide you with assistance while working toward your degree. If you are eligible for SSI, there is a supplemental program called the Plan for Achieving Self Support, commonly known as a PASS program. PASS programs provide you with additional financial support based on your own plan for working toward your own goals of eventual employment. You may use PASS support for anything related to working toward employment like tuition, fees, housing expenses, assistive devices and services, personal attendant services, and transportation costs just to name a few. Also the Disability Resource Program (typically in the student services office) at the college of your choice may be able to provide you with information and assistance in coordinating with the state vocational rehabilitation program, as well as assisting you in securing accommodations, and supports to assist you in your coursework. This office also may be able to connect you with a student with a disability who is attending college who could serve as a mentor to you. A mentor who has already tested the ropes and knows how to benefit from the college of your choice can be a great asset to you as you start your new career as a college student. You should also look into federal student financial aid that is available through the U.S. Department of Education. The President has requested over $73 billion in financial aid for college in 2005, which will help nearly 10 million students pay for college with grants and loans. You can find out what grants and loans you are eligible for by going to and filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). I wish you the best in the future.

Daryl, from Rockford writes:
My son is 10 years old and having trouble in school. He works so hard but is getting further and further behind. He was diagnosed with ADHD by his doctor and now the school says they need to evaluate him again to see if he qualifies for special education I don't want to put him through more testing. He's so sensitive and more testing would be hard on him. Why does the school have to do more testing? Why can't they just take the evaluation from his doctor?

Tracy R. Justesen
Daryl, I can certainly understand your reluctance to have your son go through additional testing, especially if it is not needed. It is important that you share the information from your doctor with school personnel, as well as your observations and concerns about your son’s education and areas where you feel he has the most difficulty. School personnel may need to do additional evaluations to determine your son’s specific strengths and challenges. For example, they may need to look at his behavior in the classroom, his ability to listen and understand teacher’s directions, his reading skills, and social interactions. All these areas are important so that school personnel can assess his need for special education and develop an effective program that addresses his specific needs. Some of this information can be obtained through observation and school records, rather than formal testing, so it may not be stressful for your son. It is important for the school to have accurate and comprehensive knowledge of your son’s abilities so that they can provide him with the needed supports and services to help him meet the same high standards as other students his age. It is also important that you be informed of the evaluations school personnel plan to conduct and the results of those evaluations. School personnel will ask you for your permission before they conduct any evaluations. When the evaluations are completed, they will share information about their findings. If your son is eligible to receive special education services, you will work with a team of education professionals and develop an individualized education plan (IEP) to meet his specific needs.

Jim, from upstate New York writes:
I have a friend of mine who is 22 years old and has been living in a nursing home for most of his life. It's a nice place and the people are good to him, but he has no friends, must keep to a routine, and he is not very happy. I think he should live in the community and be able to have friends like other people his own age. I think it would be really hard for him to work it out and he is scared about having his benefits cut off. What can he do?

Tracy R. Justesen
You are a good friend. I assume that your friend has a disability and this is why he lives in a nursing home. In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), affirming the right of people with disabilities who want to live in the community rather than in institutions whenever possible. The President is committed to implement the Olmstead decision. In support of the Olmstead decision, the President issued Executive Order 13217 which requires coordination among numerous federal agencies that administer programs affecting access to the community for people with disabilities.

In order to learn about the specific issues your friend may need to address to make a successful transition from the nursing home to a living situation he chooses, I suggest that you or your friend contact a Center for Independent Living or CIL near where he is now living. CIL’s are great places funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration that are specifically designed to assist people with disabilities moving from an institutional living arrangement to independent living settings of their choice. CIL’s have capable staff experienced in benefits assessment, selection of accessible apartments, etc. and they will work with your friend as he becomes increasingly independent. There is a CIL in Albany that you might contact. The address is: Capital District Center for Independence, 855 Central Ave., Suite 110, Albany, NY 12206 and the phone number is 518-459-6422.

Phillip, from Loveland, Colorado writes:
Are there any colleges that specialize in educating the Deaf? I want to keep my Deaf culture.

Tracy R. Justesen
Two colleges come immediately to my mind. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a two-year college within the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, is the largest technical college for students who are Deaf in the Nation. And Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, provides world-class opportunities for students who are Deaf and others at the undergraduate and graduate level. Both of these institutions are funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education and both have reputations for preserving the Deaf culture of students while providing quality opportunities for higher education. Good luck with college!

Mike, from Utica writes:
There is a local sports bar near my office with a bunch of TVs set up around the bar so that customers can watch the games. I am Deaf and I like to go out with my colleagues after work to this bar, but I cant make out whats happening on the TV. Is there anything I can ask the bar to do so that I can understand whats being said on the TV?

Tracy R. Justesen
Mike--The Federal Communications Commission or FCC implements the Closed Captioning requirements of the Telecommunications Act to make sure that more and more television is made accessible for people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Closed captioning is an assistive technology designed to provide access to television for persons with hearing disabilities. Through captioning, the audio portion of programming is displayed as text superimposed over the video. In 1990, Congress first required television receivers to contain circuitry designed to decode and display closed captioning. As of July 1993, the Commission has required that all analog television sets with screens 13 inches or larger sold in the United States contain built-in decoder circuitry that allows viewers to display closed captions. Beginning July 1, 2002, the Commission also required that digital television receivers include closed caption display capability.

As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress instructed the FCC to require video program distributors (cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multi- channel video programming distributors) to phase in closed captioning of their television programs. In 1997, the FCC implemented rules to provide a transition schedule for video program distributors to follow in providing more captioned programming. The rules require that distributors provide an increasing amount of captioned programming according to a set schedule.

Depending on the age of the televisions in the bar you visit, there is likely a decoding device in at least one of them. On the remote control for my TV at home, I have a button for captioning on it. Ask the bar tender or manager to check out their televisions for this option.

Tracy R. Justesen
Thank you for all your questions. I hope to be able to do this again soon. Tracy

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