Improving Employment Access for Americans with Disabilities

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March 24, 2011

Last July, I had the tremendous honor of kicking off the Administration’s observance of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and to then welcome hundreds to the White House as President Obama commemorated that extraordinary Anniversary. It was a momentous occasion as we listened to the President’s powerful speech and witnessed the signing of his Executive Order to increase the federal government’s employment of individuals with disabilities. As Americans, we’re imbued with those fantastic American values, embodied in the ADA, of a strong work ethic and working together to find common ground–all of which keeps us moving forward, diligently working to win the future.

Today, those American values are once again on display. With bi-partisan support, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found common ground and today made available for public viewing final Rules on the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) at http://www.ofr.gov and the rule will be published tomorrow. Significantly, the EEOC considered the interests of both employees with disabilities and employers in carefully crafting regulations that will work for all stakeholders. Now, millions of Americans with disabilities, including veterans with disabilities, will be able to take one step closer to that level playing field we all seek and have the full opportunity to contribute to one of America’s greatest traditions: hard work.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. It remains a historic civil rights law designed to protect the rights and liberties of Americans with disabilities, whether that means curbing employment discrimination or ensuring accessibility on public transportation. However, in the years following the legislation’s passage, courts made a number of decisions that frustrated Congress’ intent and that severely limited the definition of disability, leaving many people with disabilities excluded from the ability to work and contribute to our country’s growth and prosperity.

In 2008, the disability community, the business community, Congress and President George W. Bush, in the spirit of the passage of the original legislation, once again came together in a show of incredible bi-partisanship, to right the wrongs of the previous 20 years. The ADAAA was passed unanimously in the Senate and by a resounding affirmative vote in the House. And, on September 25, 2008, President Bush signed into law the ADAAA, to restore Congress’ original intent regarding the scope of who would be determined to be a person with a disability.
The ADAAA sent the message to the American people that individuals with disabilities must be full and equal members of our society. With the release of the EEOC’s regulations, employers across the country will have a clear set of guidelines and rules of the road to ensure equality for Americans with disabilities. This will help ensure civil rights protection for people with “invisible disabilities.” Moreover, the EEOC’s regulations restore the original intent of Congress to cover many disabilities that had been excluded by the courts such as multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, diabetes and many others, meaning that more people will be able to reach for the American dream.

Approximately 1 out of every 6 Americans lives with a disability. And millions more have a family member or friend who lives with a disability. Thanks to a bipartisan spirit, with these EEOC regulations, millions of people will be able to successfully put their American work ethic to use helping our businesses, our governments and our schools out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the global competition to win the future.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Adviser to the President.

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Justice Department Settles with National Board of Medical Examiners Over Refusal to Provide Testing Accommodations

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced a settlement under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME), a private, non-profit organization that administers the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), a standardized examination related to medical licensing. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, NBME is committed to providing reasonable testing accommodations to persons with disabilities who seek to take the USMLE, in accordance with the requirements of the ADA. In addition, it will grant Frederick Romberg, a Yale Medical School student, the accommodations of double the standard testing time and a separate testing area to take the USMLE.

“In the past, demands for unnecessary or redundant documentation, burdensome and expensive repeated professional evaluations, or irrelevant evaluative testing unrelated to the ability to demonstrate one’s knowledge or skills on an examination prevented individuals with appropriately documented disabilities from pursuing their chosen professions.” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “By entering into this agreement, NBME is doing its part to ensure that people with a reading disability like Mr. Romberg will have the opportunity to take the USMLE with the reasonable testing accommodations they need to demonstrate their knowledge and ability.”

Under the agreement, the NBME will:

• Only request documentation about (a) the existence of a physical or mental impairment; (b) whether the applicant’s impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities within the meaning of the ADA; and (c) whether and how the impairment limits the applicant’s ability to take the USMLE under standard conditions;

• Carefully consider the recommendations of qualified professionals who have personally observed the applicant in a clinical setting and recommended accommodations based upon their clinical judgment that the individual is substantially limited in one or more major life activities within the meaning of the ADA and needs the requested test accommodations in order to demonstrate his or her ability and achievement level; such recommendations are to be based on generally accepted diagnostic criteria and supported by reasonable documentation.

• Carefully consider all evidence indicating whether an individual’s ability to read is substantially limited within the meaning of the ADA, including the extent to which it is restricted as to the conditions, manner or duration as compared to the reading ability of most people.

The Justice Department opened an investigation in response to a complaint from Mr. Romberg who alleged that the NBME had twice denied him reasonable testing accommodations to take the USMLE because of his disability, dyslexia, in violation of the ADA. Subsequently, the department and the NBME sought to resolve the investigation by reaching a settlement agreement.

The settlement was reached under Title III of the ADA which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by private testing entities that administer examinations related to professional licensing. More information about the Civil Rights Division and the laws it enforces is available at the website www.justice.gov/crt. More information about the settlement with NBME can be found at www.ada.gov or by calling the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW • Washington DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

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