Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)
CELEBRATION OF THE 22nd ANNIVERSARY OF THE AMERICANS WITH
DISABILITIES ACT - "WHAT THE ADA MEANS TO YOU AND ME"
CLOSING REMARKS BY PATRICIA A. SHIU, DIRECTOR
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs - U.S. Department Of Labor
Community College of Allegheny County - Foerster Student Service Center Auditorium San Marino Club
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - 1:00-3:00 PM
(Pat was introduced by Amaris Whitaker, a graduate student with a disability at Carnegie Mellon University and an assistant to the Pittsburgh City Planner.)
Amaris, thank you so much for that kind introduction. You are an inspiring young leader for your campus and for this city.
And really, thanks to all the students, faculty and staff here at the Community College of Allegheny County who participated in today's program. We are deeply grateful to CCAC President Alex Johnson for hosting this celebration and for his commitment to making sure that students with disabilities have the opportunities to learn and grow in an environment that recognizes, nurtures and empowers their talents.
I also want to thank all the other speakers who have shared this stage today, including our friends from the EEOC, the Office of Vocational Rehab and the Job Accommodation Network.
I am pleased to be joined here by many of my colleagues from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. They are led by our Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regional Director Michele Hodge and our Pittsburgh District Director Tracie Brown.
Could all the OFCCP staff please stand or be otherwise recognized?
These are just some of the nearly 800 men and women around the country who work for OFCCP and are on the front lines every day when it comes to making sure that the promise of equal opportunity is a reality for all workers.
I am here today at the start of a ten-day, eight-city, five-state road trip through our Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. I love road trips. They're good for the soul. And I could think of no better place to kick this one off than here in Pittsburgh, where there seems to be something in the water (or is it the fries at Primanti Brothers?) that makes this city a catalyst for great activism on disability rights.
In 1965, just a few weeks after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, a group of civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., went to the White House to discuss next steps for the movement. Now that progress was being made toward social justice, Dr. King turned his attention to the issue of economic justice.
In spite of nearly 30 years of massive federal projects - from the New Deal to the military build-up for World War II and the construction of the federal highway system - black unemployment was still much higher than the national average. The Civil Rights Act and the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would do much to combat discrimination in American workplaces, but something was still missing: real, economic opportunity.
That discussion in the Oval Office - between a President and a King - led to the signing of Executive Order 11246, which created a new requirement for all companies which do business with our taxpayer dollars. It required that federal contractors and subcontractors do more than just prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion and sex. It said that if you are going to profit from the taxpayers, your workforce ought to look like, sound like and truly reflect the diversity of those taxpayers.
And so, affirmative action was born.
Over the years, that authority was expanded by Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and by the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act, or VEVRAA. Together, these two laws - signed by President Richard Nixon - added people with disabilities and protected veterans to LBJ's original vision.
What Dr. King understood then - and what all of us can appreciate now - is the simple truth that social justice without economic security is meaningless. Civil rights must come with real economic opportunity. Otherwise, they're just words on a piece of paper.
For the past 47 years, OFCCP has been ensuring that those economic opportunities are available to all workers. Our mission is simple: to protect workers, promote diversity and enforce the law.
Laws are an investment. They are a statement of principle and expectations. The dividends come with implementation and enforcement.
That's why we are gathering here today… to celebrate a law and the dividends it has paid for more than two decades.
On this day in 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. It was a major milestone for our country. It was a moment of incredible hope and optimism for people with disabilities and their families. On that day, we could all feel that the arc of the moral universe was bending a little closer to justice.
At the time, I was a civil rights attorney working in California. In law school I had clerked for the great disability rights advocate Arlene Mayerson, and now, as a lawyer, I was ready to represent clients in cases brought under the new ADA.
One of the cases that stands out for me was a class action lawsuit I worked on against the San Francisco Unified School District. For six years, we fought the district to meet its legal responsibilities to make sure that every student with a disability - and their parents - had physical and programmatic access to the 96 schools and other educational facilities in our city. It took a while, but in 2005 we won. And we won on behalf of every single child with a disability in San Francisco who just wanted the chance to go to school and learn.
That's what the ADA has meant for our country.
It meant that the boy with Spina Bifida in rural Texas didn't have to watch from the window as the school bus passed by his house.
It meant that the young woman in the Bronx, who lives with a hearing disability, didn't have to wonder if, in addition to college tuition, her family would be able to afford the cost of interpreters so she could attend one of the most prestigious universities in our country.
And it meant that the girl with cerebral palsy, living right here in Pittsburgh, didn't have to be segregated in classes where she would get an education that was both separate and unequal.
Ladies and gentleman, it's been 22 years. That's a generation.
A whole generation of young people have grown up in our country with the ability to access education, public accommodations and services. They've never know anything different.
But then they decide to enter the job market and, far too many of them find a door that is closing.
My job - and the job of my colleagues at the Department of Labor - is to push that door back open - and to keep it that way.
At OFCCP, we enforce Section 503 of the Rehab Act, which protects qualified workers with a disability from discrimination in the work place. It also requires the nearly 200,000 business establishments that provide supplies and services to our government - including most Fortune 500 companies - take affirmative action to recruit, hire, train, place, promote and fairly compensate qualified workers with disabilities in every part of our country.
The ADA was about access. Section 503 is about opportunity.
Here's what I know:
I know that disabled doesn't mean unable.
I know that there are qualified workers with disabilities all over this country who simply want a fair shot to find, compete for, secure and succeed in good jobs.
I know that too many of these workers are unemployed, underemployed and discouraged from seeking meaningful work. It's an issue we confront at the Department of Labor every day.
I know that we've "admired" the problem for too long. We've analyzed it and fretted over it enough.
I know that it is a persistent, intractable and insidious problem. But it is also an eminently solvable one.
In the three years since President Obama appointed me to this job, I've come to know that Washington, DC can be - let's be honest - a little dysfunctional.
But I know that where there is political will and civil discourse, we can close the disability employment gap.
I know that we have a President who gets it. He gets this.
As a candidate for office, then Senator Obama pledged to put real teeth behind our enforcement of Section 503. Today, President Obama is showing that leadership by giving OFCCP the tools and the resources to truly enforce the law.
I know that I am the 99 percent. And by that I mean that I'm part of the 99 percent of the people in this country who get to live free and safe from harm because of the one percent of American soldiers and military families who did most of the sacrificing, the fighting, the waiting and the dying during the past decade of war.
And I know that those wounded warriors, who are coming home with a service-related disability - deserve more than just the "thanks of a grateful nation." They deserve a job.
I know that progress doesn't happen in a moment. It happens in a movement. And tackling the challenges of disability and veterans' employment will require a full-scale movement that marshals the resources of agencies like mine and engages the participation of employers, advocates, experts and individual workers like you.
We cannot do this alone.
I know that corporations are not the enemy any more than workers are all victims. Mike Kinger from Lowe's is a living, breathing testament to what happens when a father's motivation meets corporate innovation. He is an American hero and we honor him for the work he and so many of his colleagues at Lowe's are doing to not only recruit and hire people with disabilities, but also to figure out how to retain them in the work force.
The truth is that, as I look around this room, it is clear we have incredible leaders from every sector of our society who are committed to opening the doors of opportunity to qualified workers with disabilities.
And we are grateful for your leadership.
By way of example - and since I'm in his hometown - I'd like to make a special note of Greg Babe, who recently ended his tenure as President and CEO of Bayer Corporation. Back in February, Greg sent me a letter in response to a regulation we are proposing which seeks to improve employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities by strengthening the affirmative action requirements in Section 503.
As you might imagine, there have been some very vocal critics of this rule, particularly in the business community. They've howled about over-regulation and a government that they believe is placing too many burdens on free enterprise. They act as if enforcing the law is going to bring down profits and destroy America as we know it - incidentally, some of the same dire predictions that were made about the ADA twenty-two years ago.
But Greg's been around a while. And he didn't join that small, but powerful chorus. Instead, he wrote the following:
"I can tell you from experience that hiring, promoting, and retaining workers with disabilities is good for our business, good for our shareholders, and good for the communities in which we do business."
And I know this sentiment is shared by so many of our business leaders and by thousands of federal contractors who want to comply with the laws we enforce at OFCCP.
We need more Greg Babes and Mike Kingers who will not only show this sort of leadership in their own companies, but who will also serve as role models to other employers.
Everyone has to do their part to define success. Government, corporate America, academic institutions, community advocates and workers - we all have a role to play. The regulatory and enforcement work of OFCCP is only one piece of the puzzle.
If we're going to close the unemployment gap and bring more people with disabilities into the labor force, it's going to take a sustained and committed effort from every sector of our society to define what success looks like and to come up with the innovative and practical approaches that will get us there.
We did it before with the ADA. Greg did it at Bayer. Mike is doing it at Lowe's. And I see this sort of thinking happening at places like Walgreen's, Campbell Soup, Sodexo and right here at CCAC.
As someone who has hired many people in my career, I can tell you that when people with disabilities apply for jobs, when they come in for that interview, they are not there in spite of their challenges. They are there because they refuse to let those challenges define them. In my experience they are exactly the kind of motivated employees we should all want to have in our workplaces.
Thirty years after the passage of the Rehab Act and VEVRAA… and two decades after the ADA… we have made much progress, but we have more to do.
I know that both Republicans and Democrats have taken leadership in this area. After all, the Rehab Act and VEVRAA were passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Republican President.
I'm a parent. And what I know is that Republican parents of children with disabilities share the same hopes and aspirations as Democratic parents and, really, all parents: that their children will grow up to be capable, self-reliant, working members of society - and that they will be recognized for their inherent worth and value.
That's why the regulatory and enforcement work of the OFCCP is so important.
I know that telling federal contractors what they could do and should do, without giving them a way to measure success, doesn't work.
I know that what gets measured gets done. And this administration is in the business of getting things done.
Good faith is how we come to the table, but accountability is going to be the way we define our enforcement.
I know that the only way to level the playing field for employers and for workers is to provide clarity about what is required under the law. And that is our commitment at OFCCP.
And I know that good policy is the cornerstone of strong enforcement. As a worker protection agency, we at OFCCP enforce the civil rights of nearly one-quarter of the American workforce - the individuals who work for or seek jobs with government contractors.
I know that in spite of all the progress that has been made, we are still finding violations of equal employment opportunity laws. Last year alone, 30% of our audits turned up violations of affirmative action requirements for people with disabilities and 20% for protected veterans.
I know we can do better and that we must do better.
Finally, I know that reasonable people can see a problem and come up with different approaches to solving it. We won't always agree, but we must strive to be agreeable.
I know that civil discourse is vital to our success and those who seek to inflame public opinion through demeaning rhetoric only end up demeaning themselves.
Our economy is recovering. But in order for it to be a truly "American" recovery, it must benefit the many and not just the few.
That is what I know. Now, let me tell you what I believe:
I believe the efforts we are undertaking at the Department of Labor - to strengthen the affirmative action for people with disabilities and for veterans - those efforts are not just going to make history...
I believe we are going to make possibility for 33 million working-age Americans with disabilities who want nothing more complicated than the chance to find good jobs, meaningful jobs, jobs that help them - to borrow a phrase - be all that they can be and all that we as a nation need them to be.
I believe that commitment is what transforms a promise into a reality.
I believe it. I know it.
And you know it.
So, let's get this done.
Thank you so much for joining us today.