REMARKS OF ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL WAN J. KIM
AT 17TH ADA ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION AND
SIGNING OF TWO NEW PROJECT CIVIC ACCESS AGREEMENTS
New Orleans, Louisiana
July 26, 2007
Hello and thank you for such a warm welcome to this great city. I am pleased to be here today to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Seventeen years ago today President George Herbert Walker Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most significant civil rights laws since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since that time, the impact of the ADA can be seen across the entire country. The ADA has provided people with disabilities with greater access to employment, courts, libraries, health care, stores, hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, childcare centers, schools, transportation, and polling places. Because of the ADA, people with disabilities have an increased opportunity to participate in all aspects of community life.
However, there is still much work to be done. Significant challenges remain in order to remove all barriers for the more than 50 million Americans with disabilities. One important challenge, and a significant focus of the Civil Rights Division, is to ensure that people with disabilities are included in their local community’s emergency planning process, and that people with disabilities are fully integrated into emergency programs and services, including evacuations and sheltering.
Complying with the ADA in emergency preparedness and response is more complicated than measuring the width of a door, but is vital for all communities to address, not just to comply with the law, but to provide an equal opportunity for all people to stay safe when emergencies occur.
It is in that spirit that we are here today not only to celebrate the anniversary of the ADA, but also to sign a Project Civic Access Agreement with the city of New Orleans. Project Civic Access, or PCA, is a Department of Justice initiative to ensure that cities, towns, counties and other government localities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by eliminating barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in community life. Following the events of September 11, 2001, we have expanded our PCA focus to include emergency preparedness for people with disabilities.
The Department has signed Project Civic Access agreements in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. These agreements have made life better for over 3 million people with disabilities. In each of these agreements, communities have agreed to take specific steps to make core government functions more accessible to people with disabilities. The agreements have improved access to many aspects of civic life, including courthouses, libraries, parks, sidewalks, and other facilities, and address a wide range of accessibility issues, such as employment, voting, law enforcement activities, domestic violence shelters, and emergency preparedness and response.
The Department of Justice originally signed a Project Civic Access agreement with the City of New Orleans in January of 2002. New Orleans worked cooperatively with the Department to comply with the agreement, and was nearing completion when Hurricane Katrina struck and destroyed or damaged nearly all of the facilities and programs covered by that agreement. Faced with starting over, limited resources, and continuous adversity, City staff continued to work cooperatively with the Department. We have worked together to create a feasible plan to rebuild this city’s facilities and bring back its programs and services. I am pleased that New Orleans is committed to rebuilding its city facilities and programs for all of its citizens, to be fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The agreement being signed today reflects the City’s commitment to removing barriers to access at the city hall, courthouses, and many of the libraries, police stations, recreational facilities, and the art museum.
The Department is committed to helping the City during the rebuilding process. Under this agreement, the Department will provide, at no cost to the city, an expert architectural consultant to help ensure ADA compliance by reviewing design plans for certain facilities being constructed or rehabilitated.
To further assist the City during the rebuilding effort, the Department will provide live ADA training and consultation for City employees, building inspectors and facilities personnel. This training and consultation will also be provided by an expert architectural consultant.
The Department of Justice is also reaching out to the business community in New Orleans to encourage business to build or rebuild in New Orleans, and to do so in full compliance with the ADA. The Department will provide live ADA consultation for private business owners, landlords, contractors, architects, and others who are designing or rebuilding within the City. We are very excited about this program, and hope that it will be a positive benefit to the local business community.
The other key component of this PCA agreement with the City addresses the City’s emergency management procedures and policies. We have been working with City staff over the past year to review and discuss the city’s emergency operations plan. The Department will work with all of the city, state and federal entities involved to improve the accessibility of the emergency evacuation process for people with disabilities. Like all of you, we hope the City will be able to rebuild without having to deal with further emergencies. However, all of us will be working together in the spirit of the ADA to prepare to address the needs of people with disabilities in the event that another emergency does occur.
Mayor Nagin, your staff have been sincere, and cooperative in working with the Department of Justice for more than 5 years, and I thank you for your commitment to working with us. We appreciate your staff’s time, commitment, and cooperation with us to date. I want to recognize the efforts of those who met with us over the past year, including Colonels Ebbert and Sneed, Robert Williams, Dr. Saussy, and others.
Page McCranie, in particular, has been putting up with the Justice Department folks since our initial PCA agreement with the city in 2002. Page is a tremendous asset to this city and for the disability rights community, and is a terrific ambassador for the city. Thank you, Page, for putting this event together and for facilitating the City’s work with the Department of Justice.
I would also like to thank the mayor’s advisory council for citizen’s with disabilities for working with the Department and for hosting this event, and the advocacy center for their contributions.
I also want to thank my terrific staff, led by John Wodatch, Jeanine Worden and Dov Lutzker. This is a momentous day in the history of the ADA. But in addition to this agreement it is also a momentous day in the lives of Dov and his wife Angela. Today is their 9th wedding anniversary, and they decided to celebrate with us.
I will be signing a similar agreement with Harrison County, Mississippi, one of the other communities on the gulf coast hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. The Harrison County agreement includes similar provisions to provide an ADA architectural consultant to the county and business community, funded by the Department of Justice. I want to thank the Harrison County attorney, Joe Meadows, and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors for their cooperation and patience in working with the Department. With the two agreements signed today the Department will have reached 155 cooperative agreements to improve access for people with disabilities in communities across the country.
In October 2006, the Attorney General directed the Civil Rights Division to use the knowledge and experience the Division has gained in its work with State and local governments under Project Civic Access to begin a technical assistance project. As a result, the Division is publishing the “ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments,” a manual to help State and local governments improve their compliance with ADA requirements. This Tool Kit is being released in several installments. In the Tool Kit, the Division is providing commonsense explanations of how the requirements of Title II of the ADA apply to State and local government programs, services, activities, and facilities. We are also providing checklists and survey forms and instructions that state and local government officials can use to evaluate their own ADA compliance.
Emergency management is a critical area where the obligation to provide access for people with disabilities will not be met without specific types of advance planning and preparation. While we will be working with the City of New Orleans, Harrison County, and several other communities across the country on ADA compliance issues in emergency management, we cannot work one-on-one with all communities in this country. For this reason, I am pleased to announce the release of Chapter 7 of the ADA Tool Kit, which provides technical assistance for all state and local government officials on steps they should take to achieve ADA compliance in their emergency management programs. I strongly urge state and local officials – and organizations that work with them on emergency management issues – to use these materials to achieve ADA compliance.
All of the Tool Kit documents I have described and the agreements being signed today are available on the Department of Justice’s ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov,.
We look forward to continuing to work with the city of New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, and the other entities involved in making sure that people with disabilities are able to participate in all aspects of civic life in New Orleans, and are included in the emergency preparedness process. Our hope is that by working cooperatively with the city of New Orleans, Harrison County, and other State and local governments, we will come closer to tearing down the barriers that many Americans with disabilities still face today. Thank you very much.