Grassley Q&A: The Americans with Disabilities Act

Disabled EmployeeBy Chuck Grassley
United States Senator


People living with disabilities have every right to pursue the American Dream. So many families and individuals with disabilities I have talked with tell me they want to earn money in a fulfilling job. I’m all for championing ambition and rewarding a strong work ethic. That’s why I’m working to craft public policy that will help even more individuals with disabilities to join the workforce, earn a paycheck, pay taxes and contribute to their local economies. For those who are able to participate in an integrated work setting and maximize their potential in the local community, my bill would improve the policy tools to help drive inclusion and better outcomes for people with disabilities.

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Q: How has the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) shaped American society?

A: The landmark civil rights law this summer observes 25 years since President George H.W. Bush signed the bill on July 26, 1990.  Iowans will recall that one of the key architects of the legislation was my long-time Iowa colleague in the United States Senate. Throughout his years of public service, Sen. Tom Harkin built upon his advocacy to champion change for those living with a disability so that they may participate more fully in American society. In the last 25 years, the ADA has helped remove barriers to education, employment, transportation and access to public places and services. Perhaps the most influential change in the quarter century since passage of the ADA is a shift in expectations for the millions of Americans who live with a disability. For those who previously identified with the limits of their disability rather than embracing the potential of their skills and talents, the ADA has raised society’s bar of expectations to foster integration and inclusion in our schools, communities and places of work. For individuals who live with a physical or mental impairment, the ADA affords equality under the law to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of citizenship like Americans who do not have a disability. An entire generation has grown up with the ADA as the law of the land. To the extent that the ADA has worked to erase a divide between those living with or without a disability, this 25th anniversary of the ADA gives us reason to celebrate. It’s good for America when public policy encourages Americans to dream big in their pursuit of happiness and prosperity.


Q: What is the Transition to Independence Act?

A: Just as the ADA has helped pave the way for millions of Americans to more fully participate in American society, policymakers can do more to help people with disabilities achieve integrated employment in the U.S. workforce. In communities across the country, a network of service providers helps to make it possible for people with disabilities to live and work alongside non-disabled peers. By far, Medicaid is the largest program that provides the financial framework that pays for services for people with disabilities, such as primary health care, community-based care, transportation, workforce training and residential support services. Just as the ADA served as a catalyst to help individuals with disabilities integrate more fully in their communities and achieve their God-given potential, the Transition to Independence Act seeks to build on that progress and give even more individuals with disabilities real opportunities to land a job in their local communities. The bipartisan bill I introduced this summer is a consensus proposal with broad support and includes valuable input from key advocacy groups that are committed to help individuals with disabilities achieve maximum success in their communities. The bill would create a five-year, 10-state pilot program within Medicaid. The participating states would qualify for bonus payments if reforms they adopt help drive better outcomes for people striving to become productive contributors and wage-earners in their local communities. The demonstration program would change the financial formula to give states incentives rather than disincentives to reform business-as-usual among the multi-disciplinary patchwork of service providers serving this community. States would be rewarded for improving outcomes and helping individuals with disabilities seeking to secure maximum participation in the local job market. For example, states could receive more funding for growing the workforce that provides support services for the disabled community. States could increase their revenue stream by implementing reforms that encourage collaboration among a mishmash of agencies and service providers. In a nutshell, participating states would be rewarded for achieving targets of integrated employment.