Skip to page content
Office of the Secretary
Bookmark and Share

Career Force 2000 Conference

Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich

Gallaudet University
Career Force 2000 Conference

October 9, 1996

Thank you, Dr. Anderson. Let me salute you for your great commitment to the success of Gallaudet University, as well as for your dedication to empowering people who are deaf through better and more effective continuing education programs.

And President Jordan, what a great pleasure and honor it is to be here with you this morning. You are making a real difference in the lives of many, many people. Everyone in our administration knows it, from President Clinton on down. And I want you to know that we applaud and appreciate your leadership and advocacy on behalf of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We are proud of you and what you represent.

This is, of course, a great week for Gallaudet. And it is a great day -- a day

of celebration -- the day you are dedicating the new Kellogg Conference Center. Certainly, this building will stand in tribute to Dr. Anderson and President Jordan -- two men whose life's work is exemplified in the vision and goal of this conference center: to establish a barrier-free environment to lifelong learning.

But it is also a tribute to the entire Gallaudet University community -- students, faculty, alumni -- and those in the deaf community beyond this beautiful campus. I congratulate you. And I bring you this message:

(TO BE DELIVERED IN SIGN LANGUAGE: "You are America's future.")

How do I know that?

First of all, I understand the enormous wealth of talent, cultural diversity and character that the deaf community brings to our nation and our world. I know about the contributions made by deaf people throughout the history of this country -- across all professions -- from education to the arts, from science to the business world.

I also know about trends in the workplace -- and particularly about the fact that people with disabilities are a growing segment of our workforce.

Yes, the number of deaf and people with disabilities who are unemployed is still much, much too high. Yes, too many doors to employment remain closed. Yes, we have a long way to go.

But thanks in part to technology -- in part to the civil rights struggle that led to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act -- and in part to a growing number of enlightened employers who really want to do the right thing -- we are heading in the right direction.

Our entire nation will benefit from the full participation of Americans with disabilities in our economy and our society. And the sooner we meet that goal, the better.

As the President has said: "We can't afford to waste the talents of a single person if we are to succeed in this exciting new world."

Indeed, this is an era of extraordinary change -- for our economy, for our society, for our working families -- and, yes, for every one of you here today.

Today, we are moving away from the old era of factory production. We moved from the farm to the assembly line, and now we are moving from the assembly line to the computer and beyond.

The same technology that has shrunk the old, upright teletype machines into the smaller, sleeker, computerized TTY machines of today is also changing the entire nature of work and employment.

While traditional white collar workers continue to be downsized out of jobs, and while traditional blue-collar workers are barely beginning to catch up after two decades of stagnant wages, there is an emerging group of workers that is reshaping the nation's industrial base and forming a foundation for the middle class of the 21st Century.

These new workers do not plug along at repetitive tasks. They do not work by giving orders to others. Instead, they associate their skills with smart machines.

The line between professionals and their assistants is blurring, shaking up old hierarchies and linking pay to skills rather than credentials. Hospital technicians run tests and perform other routine tasks that doctors once handled. Para-legals research cases by computer and use computers to prepare documents for attorneys.

Computer-aided graphics technicians back up designers and architects. And financial technicians run specialized software for accountants and auditors.

Today's technologies have spurred a whole host of new opportunities in industries that barely existed only 25 years ago. And who knows what the major growth occupations will be 25 years from now?

I do know this, however: Almost all of these new jobs will require some education and training beyond high school. They're going to require that everyone -- businesses, government, and individuals -- make a stronger, more vigorous commitment to the development of our "human capital."

Already, there are many indications that the supply of these new workers is not keeping up with demand.

In California and the Pacific Northwest, employers can't find the skilled telecommunications workers they need. In the Southeast, producers of industrial machinery and equipment can't fill orders because they don't have workers with the right technical skills. There are shortages of software programmers throughout the Northeast. Employers throughout the country complain that they don't have nearly enough technical sales and support personnel. On surveys conducted by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, small business owners cite lack of skilled workers as one of their major impediments to continued growth.

This shortage of highly-skilled workers threatens to limit the nation's economic growth.

This underscores the fact that, in the new economy, we cannot afford to leave anyone behind -- be it the child who lacks educational opportunities, the factory worker whose skills are not geared to the new economy, or -- yes -- the deaf person who has so much to contribute but is being held back by outmoded attitudes or outright discrimination.

And it's a major reason why the ADA and its full implementation is so vitally important to America's future. It has been said many time before, but it bears repeating -- in this highly-competitive, technology-driven economy, we don't have a single person to waste.

But how will we know whether we are succeeding?

Clearly, we need better and more reliable statistics on exactly how the deaf and people with disabilities are faring in the job market -- so that we can gauge the impact of programs and laws like the ADA.

I'm pleased to say that the Census Bureau is now providing regular, state-of-the-art reporting and a more detailed picture on the employment and unemployment situation of people with disabilities. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- in my Department -- will be providing further analysis of those figures at a future date.

There is already good news to report. From 1991 to 1994, we saw a substantial increase in the number of deaf and disabled people working -- an increase of about 800,000. But having better, more accurate employment information will enable us to continue moving in the right direction by increasing the rate of employment among Americans with disabilities.

This is more than a goal for government policy-makers. It is a goal for all of America. And I know that Dr. Anderson and President Jordan are going to continue to lead the way.

With the ADA as a good foundation and a good start, I believe that changing attitudes and advancing technology will continue to wipe away the employment barriers that still prevent far too many Americans with disabilities from participating in the workforce.

But, while changing employer attitudes and increasing physical access to the workplace is vital to our goal of full participation, there is another kind of access that -- in this new economy -- is becoming increasingly important to your future in the workplace.

Access to the latest learning -- and thereby opportunities to increase skills and develop professionally -- is the key the good jobs of tomorrow. By providing that access, the Kellogg Conference Center is going to make a huge contribution to the lives of many people.

To those of you who are students here at Gallaudet, your education here is important -- to be sure -- but it is really only a stepping stone toward a life of continual learning. And it is this lifelong learning process that will continue to make you a vital part of the world of work of today and tomorrow.

And that's another reason why the Gallaudet community is going to be a vital part of America's future.

You have played a critical role in breaking down barriers for deaf people in the American workplace. An extraordinarily high percentage of your graduates are either moving into good jobs or going to graduate school to further their education.

It's a great accomplishment. But, as an institution of higher learning, you cannot rest on your laurels. You must continue to build on your success by focusing on the next great challenge -- ensuring that those who move into the workforce will have opportunities to build their skills, to develop professionally, and to get ahead in the economy of the 21st Century.

The events of this week -- particularly the dedication of the new Kellogg Center and the convening of this "Career Force 2000" conference -- are an affirmation that the Gallaudet University community is ready to meet that next challenge.

I want to commend the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for making a vital link -- a necessary link -- between the need for better programs to educate people who are deaf, and the need to focus on continuing education.

The Kellogg Conference Center -- with its state of the art technology -- is a tremendous accomplishment. And I'm confident that it's gong to play a vital role in meeting one of the most important challenges facing this nation -- the challenge of building the best educated, most highly skilled workforce in the world.

Here we have an educational center that is not only designed for the new economy, but also provides ease of communication for people who use sign language, assistive listening devices, or voice.

This is a place for professional development. A place where working people can go to upgrade their skills. A place where adults can train for the jobs of the future and stay competitive -- without interrupting their careers. A place for lifelong learning.

Thanks to Gallaudet University and to the Kellogg Foundation, people who are deaf and hard of hearing now have such a place -- one that is uniquely focused on communication and the use of technology to knock down barriers to learning.

In addition, this Center will serve as a new standard for providing access to all employees in the workplace and in training. There is much that business and government can learn from the barrier-free access that has been created here.

Your commitment to professional development is going to open more doors to full participation and self-reliance for deaf and hard of hearing people everywhere.

As you know, President Clinton's administration has been working hard at addressing the wider challenge of ensuring that every working person has the opportunity to make the transition from the old economy to the new.

A critical part of our initiative is to convert America's unemployment system into a re-employment system by consolidating information and services for job seekers and making them available to the public all in one place. These One Stop Centers -- as they are called -- will focus primarily on providing the information and services that workers will need to upgrade their skills for new and better careers.

As we work with the states to develop these One Stop Centers we have the opportunity to build from the ground up a re-employment system that includes state-of-the-art access for job seekers with disabilities.

So today I am directing our Employment and Training Administration to continue providing leadership to states and local communities to ensure that these One Stop Center systems are fully accessible to the deaf and people with disabilities.

The Department of Labor is committed to working with the Department of Education's Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Social Security Administration to ensure that accessibility issues are addressed in the start-up designs of the One Stop Centers.

The goal of the One Stop Centers is and should be to do everything possible to ensure that all Americans have equal access to re-employment services. We can achieve that goal by making sure that this issue is addressed at the very beginning -- while the One Stop Centers are starting their operations.

I am encouraged by this initiative, and by progress we are seeing in the private sector, as well.

The ranks of exemplary employers is growing. More of them are realizing what is true -- that providing job accommodation is not costly, that new employees with disabilities have brought diversity and potential to the American workplace, and, most importantly, that the future belongs only to those who seek to capitalize on the enormous pool of talent represented by the millions of Americans who have disabilities.

There is still much to be done.

We need to continue to spotlight the high-road employers and encourage others to follow their lead. We need to convince more employers that, in the words of President Jordan, "deaf people can do anything hearing people can do except hear." And we need to show America that the road to success in tomorrow's workplace leads directly through the huge pool of talent, knowledge and creative energy that you represent.

Remember, [sign language] "you are America's future."

I know Gallaudet University will continue to lead the way as a source of strength and inspiration -- not only for the deaf -- but for everyone who wants to create a better America.

Thank you.

History Home Page

In-Depth Research

Annals of the Department

History eSources

Departmental Timeline

Historical Office

 Century of Service  

Wirtz Labor Library