Wednesday July 25 2:52 PM ET
By JENNIFER HOYT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Bush administration announced on Wednesday a coordinated effort among six Cabinet agencies to assess and overcome barriers faced by the disabled.
The effort includes a nationwide information-gathering campaign and formation of an Interagency Council on Community Living. The council will report to the president by mid-October with recommendations for improving the lives of Americans with disabilities.
"We must work to provide greater personal independence for our fellow citizens who struggle with physical, mental and emotional difficulties," said Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services.
Also on Wednesday, Thompson announced $9 million in grants to states to provide services to disabled workers, including health benefits, better transportation and on-the-job assistance.
"Most people with disabilities want to work," said Thompson, who lost hearing in his right ear four years ago. "They want to help build a stronger country."
Former President Bush (news - web sites) signed the ADA, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled and requires that they have access to transportation and other public accommodations, on July 26, 1990.
In June, his son, President Bush, ordered the agencies to help states provide community-based services to people with disabilities and to review laws and programs that may stand in the way. It was part of the president's New Freedom Initiative, an effort to fully integrate disabled people into their communities.
Wednesday's announcement marks the first time key federal agencies have coordinated their efforts on behalf of disabled Americans, Thompson said.
"You represent courage, perseverance and a desire for contribution to our country," he told people with disabilities who gathered for the announcement. "You have our appreciation and above all our deepest respect."
Activists for disabled rights generally praised the initiative, but cautioned there is much to do.
"This is not going to be easy, and I think President Bush knows this," said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities.
"The best way to do disability policy" is to work with people with disabilities and across party lines, he told Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Education Secretary Rod Paige, Thompson and other agency officials.
Tony Young, chairman of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, said: "The expectations outside the Beltway (outside Washington) for implementation are extremely high. People are counting on us to get this job done."