By Edwin S. Hopson
On July 22, 2010, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission celebrated the 20th anniversary of the passage and signing into law of the Americans With Disabilities Act at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. The celebration consisted of a series of speakers and panels, with the stated theme of “Celebrating the ADA: Looking Back, Moving Forward.”
In a July 22, 2010, press release, EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien stated that “[t]he EEOC is proud of its enforcement efforts under the ADA for the past twenty years, moving forward to fulfill the nation’s promise to give all Americans opportunity, dignity and respect in the workplace.” She went on to note that “[t]he ADA did not erase all of our challenges, but we have learned over the years, as we also celebrate the 45th anniversary of the EEOC’s founding this month, that the American workplace has changed for the better.”
EEOC’s celebration, ironically was organized by EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, who was herself instrumental in the development and passage of the ADA as well as the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 prior to coming to the EEOC, according to EEOC’s press release. Commissioner Feldblum stated on this occasion that “[w]ork is key to the soul. It’s not just about paying the bills. It’s about feeling important, about feeling useful. Everyone should be able to work, if they can. But to achieve that for people with disabilities – we really need to change how people think about who they want to hire.”
The speakers included EEOC officials and authorities on disability law and practice, along with a complainant in an EEOC disability rights case.
“Our country is stronger and more fair today because the ADA opened the doors of opportunity to millions of people with disabilities who had been effectively locked out of the American dream to which we all aspire,” said Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights who spoke at the event.
“Thanks to the ADA, all Americans have benefitted from the talents and contributions of people with disabilities,” said Andrew J. Imparato, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, who also spoke. “However, much work remains to be done. Too many people with disabilities are eager to work but still excluded from our workforce. Our workplaces need these individuals in order to flourish.”
The agency also presented awards to current and former EEOC Commissioners and staff who played key roles in the passage of the ADA, promulgation of regulations and guidance under the ADA, and enforcement of the ADA. They included:
●the late Evan J. Kemp, Jr., who was the Chair of the EEOC when the ADA first became law;
●Thomasina Rogers, who, as the Legal Counsel in the period immediately after the passage of the ADA, oversaw the development of the EEOC’s regulations, guidance, and Technical Assistance Manual;
●Paul Steven Miller, a former Commissioner of the EEOC who was a tireless advocate for disability rights within and outside the Commission;
●Christine Griffin, former Commissioner of the EEOC where she founded the LEAD Initiative, designed to promote the hiring of people with disabilities in the federal government;
●Christopher Bell, former special assistant to the late Chair Evan Kemp, who served as the first head of the Office of Legal Counsel’s ADA Policy Division;
●Peggy Mastroianni, the current EEOC Associate Legal Counsel, who directed the development of numerous ADA Guidance materials and regulations; and
●Christopher Kuczynski, current Assistant Legal Counsel of the EEOC and director of the ADA/GINA Policy Division.
More information about the 20th Anniversary Celebration, including the webcast of the event, is available on the EEOC’s website at http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/45th/ada20/index.cfm