09.18.14

Harkin Introduces Three Bills As Part of “Access for All” Agenda for Americans with Disabilities

Harkin Legislation Follows Release of HELP Committee Report on Barriers to Economic Success for People with Disabilities, Senator’s Last Hearing on Disability Rights

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a new report on an investigation he called for regarding the barriers that people with disabilities face as they seek to rise out of poverty and enter the middle class. To implement the recommendations made by the report, Harkin today also introduced three new bills as part of his “Access for All” agenda to help Americans with disabilities achieve economic independence and reach the middle class.

Today also marked Harkin’s final HELP Committee hearing on disability rights and the culmination of more than 40 years as the leading advocate for disability rights in Congress. He was the Senate author of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. In addition to negotiating and passing the ADA, he was responsible for numerous pieces of legislation that embedded the goals of the ADA throughout American policy in areas ranging from transportation to housing and education to health care. His commitment to fighting for equal rights for all Americans no matter their ability meant that people with disabilities were included when legislation was being drafted and that these individuals were part of the decision making process when laws were being implemented. His work ensured that “nothing about us without us” was not only a phrase, but also a principle by which disability policy was executed.

“Since we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have seen great progress in opening doors of opportunity previously closed to those with disabilities, but today’s report shows that there is more work to do,” Harkin said. “Today’s report makes clear that even as more people with disabilities seek to enter the workforce, there are still too many barriers preventing them from becoming economically independent. When these Americans are not part of the workforce, they are much more likely to be stuck in poverty with no way of getting ahead.

“To address the economic barriers Americans with disabilities still face, I am introducing three new bills as part of an ‘Access for All’ agenda to help them achieve the economic success necessary to be independent and lead full and fulfilling lives in their communities,” Harkin continued. “Protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities has been and continues to be one of my most important priorities and I look forward to moving these important measures forward. I am proud to have worked with so many great champions for people with disabilities and look forward to continuing this important work in the months and years ahead.”

To address the challenges identified by the report, Harkin introduced the following legislation:

The Universal Home Design Act would increase the availability of accessible housing for individuals with disabilities and would cover single family houses and townhouses (new construction). The legislation would:

  • Require that individuals or entities that utilize federal financial assistance for design, construction, or purchase include universal home design features – accessible entrance, accessible interior doors, accessible environmental controls, one accessible indoor room, an accessible bathroom, and accessible kitchen space. 
  • Require that specific universal home design features be developed by the Access Board.
  • Ensure that federal financial assistance includes assistance by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
  • Ensure private right of action and enforcement by the Attorney General.
  • Create the Office of Accessible Housing and Development at HUD.

The Accessible Transportation for All Act would expand access to accessible transportation options for individuals with disabilities. The legislation would:

  • Prohibit discrimination by taxi companies and drivers.
  • Authorize a model accessible taxi competition to create additional, affordable accessible taxi designs.
  • Authorize a model accessible passenger car competition to create affordable, accessible car designs for individuals with disabilities.
  • Create an Accessible Taxi Board at DoT, to promote accessible taxis, with 50%+ representation by persons with disabilities.
  • Require states to develop strategic plans to increase the availability of accessible taxis.
  • Require the Access Board to create accessible taxi standards and service standards.
  • Make available a tax credit for taxi companies that purchase an accessible vehicle or adapt a vehicle to be accessible (same tax credit as under the ADA).

The Exercise and Fitness for All Act would encourage exercise and fitness service providers to provide exercise and fitness equipment that is accessible to individuals with disabilities. The legislation would:

  • Ensure this includes equipment such as treadmills, step machines, stationary bikes, rowing machines, weight machines, circuit training equipment, cardiovascular equipment, strength equipment, or other exercise or fitness equipment provided in a fitness facility, health spa, health club, college or university facility, gym, etc.
  • Establish an Access Board to develop and publish guidelines for accessible exercise and fitness equipment within 18 months.
  • Provides a tax credit for entities that provide exercise or fitness equipment that meets the guidelines (same tax credit as under the ADA).

The findings of the Harkin HELP Committee investigation include:

  • Living with a disability in America can be both economically and socially costly;
  • Many people with disabilities fear that earning or saving too much money could cause them to lose access to supports that they need to live independently in the community;
  • People with disabilities often cannot save for emergencies and unanticipated challenges;
  • People with disabilities often cannot participate in the workforce because they lack reliable, accessible transportation and accessible, affordable housing; and
  • People with disabilities continue to report experiencing employment discrimination, discriminatory wages, inaccessible workplaces, and persistently low expectations about what they can accomplish.

The full report can be found here. A summary of the legislation introduced by Harkin today can be found here.

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