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A Progress Report on Fulfilling America's Promise to Americans with Disabilities

Chapter 4. Promoting Full Access to Community Life

Swift Implementation of the Olmstead Decision

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to live in the community rather than in institutions whenever possible. The President recognizes, however, that making the promise of full integration a reality for people with disabilities means not only changing existing practices that favor institutionalization over community-based treatment, but also providing the affordable housing, transportation, and access to state and local government programs and activities that make community life possible.

As part of his promise in the New Freedom Initiative to swiftly implement 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. On March 25, 2002, nine Federal agencies submitted to the President a report entitled Delivering on the Promise. The report summarizes agency activities that support Olmstead’s goal of integration, identifies barriers that exist within programs to full implementation of Olmstead, and proposes more than 400 solutions aimed at removing these barriers. Many of the accomplishments that follow are direct consequences of Executive Order 13217 and the recommendations made in Delivering on the Promise.


Next Steps

Promoting Homeownership for People with Disabilities

For many, homeownership is an important part of what it means to achieve the “American Dream.” The New Freedom Initiative is committed to making the American Dream of homeownership a reality for more people with disabilities.


Next Steps

Expanding Rental Housing Options

Individuals with disabilities seeking access to rental housing face a number of challenges – from physically inaccessible units and common areas to attitudinal barriers. The New Freedom Initiative is committed to removing these barriers, and much has been accomplished through a combination of outreach, technical assistance, and enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.


Access to Transportation

Access to transportation is absolutely critical for achieving full integration of individuals with disabilities into the community. People with disabilities need reliable transportation so that they can get and keep jobs, access medical care, and participate in all of the activities a community has to offer.

President Bush requested $145 million in new funding for the Department of Transportation in FY 2002 and FY 2003 to promote innovative programs that would remove transportation barriers that individuals with disabilities continue to face. Congress did not appropriate these funds. In May 2003, the Administration proposed a six-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA), which included $918 million from FY 2004 through FY 2009 to fund a New Freedom Initiative formula grants program. Under the program, states would allocate their Federal funding competitively to state or local public authorities, non-profits, or private operators of public transportation service to provide new transportation services and transportation alternatives beyond those required by the ADA for individuals with disabilities. Congress did not appropriate the $145 million requested under SAFETEA for FY 2004.

Even without this requested funding, the Department of Transportation, often with Federal and non-governmental partners, has undertaken a number of activities that support the New Freedom Initiative’s goal of providing better transportation options for people with disabilities.


President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health

On April 29, 2002, the President issued Executive Order 13263 establishing the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. Composed of fifteen members representing providers, payers, administrators, and consumers of mental health services, as well as family members of consumers, and seven ex officio members, the Commission was charged with conducting “a comprehensive study of the United States mental health service delivery system, including public and private sector providers,” and was directed to advise the President on methods of improving the system. In July 2003, the Commission issued its recommendations in a final report entitled Achieving the Promise, Transforming Mental Health Care in America. See
The report identifies barriers to care within the mental health system and examples of community-based care models that have proven successful in coordinating and providing treatment services.

The Commission concluded that the mental health service delivery system in the United States must be substantively transformed. In the transformed system: 1) Americans understand that mental health is essential to overall health; 2) mental health care is consumer and family-driven; 3) disparities in mental health services are eliminated; 4) early mental health screening, assessment, and referral to services are common practice; 5) excellent mental health services are delivered and research is accelerated; and 6) technology is used to access mental health care and information.

The Commission also concluded that the roles played by states must be central to the transformation process, but states must rely heavily upon the involvement of consumers in research, planning, and evaluation activities. At the same time, the coordinated efforts of more than 25 Federal agencies must undergird and reinforce the states’ processes. Every adult with a serious mental illness or child with a serious emotional disturbance must have an individualized plan of care coordinating services among programs and across agencies. Every state must have a comprehensive mental health plan, the ownership of which is shared by all state agencies impacting the care of persons with serious mental illnesses.

Next Steps

Improving Access

Full access to community life means access to the political process, to civic organizations, to the range of programs and activities offered by state and local governments, and to places of public accommodation. The President fully supports efforts to achieve voluntary compliance with and, where necessary, to enforce laws such as Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The President also signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) into law on October 29, 2002 to improve access to voting process for all Americans, including individuals with disabilities.


Next Steps

This report was produced by the White House Domestic Policy Council.

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