Monday, August 01, 2005

Remarks by the Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff

What do you think about Mr. Chertoff's speech? I thought several remarks were completely bullshit and just politically-driven statements. Although it's good that we have ADA, the country still has along way to go with ADA working for us. I wonder how many of these hired were deaf? What about these who are not "brilliant" as he said some hired disabled workers/interns were? How does the government measure "progress" and "success?" Not trying to be a pessimist here. Just trying to be realistic and question what he says. At least we have the ADA in place as a tool for us to use in our fights. NAD sure is devoted to fighting and working for and on the behalf of the deaf community.


Remarks by the Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff at the National Council on Disability Seminar on the Americans With Disabilities Act

Washington, D.C.

National Council on Disability Seminar on the Americans with Disabilities Act
July 26, 2005

Secretary Chertoff: Thanks. Thank you, Lex. Thank you for that kind introduction. I didn’t realize anybody actually read my opinions. I thought only the law clerk applicants read them.

I want to thank all of you for allowing me to join you here today and giving me the opportunity to share with you the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And I wish I could be here a little longer. I’m going to be going up to Capitol Hill in about 15 minutes because, as many of you know, we are in the heart of appropriations season. And as we get down to the finish line, it’s part of my obligation to see to it that we’re addressing all of the needs of my department. But I want to take some time today to share this very important occasion with you.

One of our country’s most important and successful civil rights laws has been the ADA, which has helped to break down barriers that once prevented very talented people from having equal access to employment, places of public accommodation, telecommunications, and public services. In the 15 years since the law was passed and implemented, the ADA has enabled society to benefit from the skills and talents of individuals with disabilities, and has lead to fuller, more productive lives for all Americans. At the Department of Homeland Security, we have taken a number of steps to fulfill the very important and laudable goals of the ADA.

For example, we are working diligently to provide equal employment opportunities for all Americans, including those with disabilities. Because the homeland security effort is so vital to our country, we need the best and brightest of America –- all Americans -- to join us in our work. We need people with excellent minds, innovative ideas, and a strong work ethic. And we cannot afford to exclude whole categories of people based on outdated and outmoded stereotypes.

For this reason, for the last 18 months, we’ve had in place an aggressive project to encourage people with disabilities to seek employment with us, and, more importantly, to encourage our managers to seriously consider applications from people with disabilities. During this time period, more than 4,000 managers in our offices here in Washington and all over the country have completed training sessions on this important initiative. We have made strong efforts to expose our workforce to people with disabilities, and vice versa, using internships. We’ve had more than 150 interns with disabilities at various DHS offices around the country in the past year. And at our headquarters location, here in Washington, one quarter of all of our interns in the past year were students with disabilities. We have also worked hard to reach out to disabled veterans, especially those returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. And of course I want to pay special thanks to them for the tremendous sacrifice that they and all their colleagues have made and are continuing to make in fighting against terror. We are working closely with the Department of Defense’s Computer/Electronic Accommodations (or CAP) Program, which provides employees with disabilities the assistive devices that they need to do their jobs. As a result, CAP awarded DHS with the Model Employer for Peoples with Disabilities Award in 2004.

Now, all of this work has paid concrete dividends. Since this project began 18 months ago, the number of people with disabilities working at DHS headquarters has doubled in size. Internships are worth the investment. Of the 12 interns with disabilities working at DHS headquarters in the past year, two were offered full-time employment and a third was offered part-time employment as she continued her education. One deaf college student who participated in Disability Mentoring Day advised his mentor that as a result of his exposure to our intelligence office, he was going to begin pursuing an additional degree in Arabic, which as you all know is a skill we are desperately in need of having more talented people working with. We have more work to do, but we are encouraged that these results prove that we are on the right path.

Last July, you will remember that President Bush signed an executive order to ensure that the special needs and talents of people with disabilities in the emergency preparedness effort would be a national priority. Since then, DHS assumed the leadership of an Interagency Council that includes more than 20 other federal agencies to make the President’s commitment into a reality. During the past year, we have seen remarkable progress. For example, working through our colleagues at the Department of Labor, the council has developed a template that can train and guide managers in the proper evacuation of people with disabilities during times of emergency.

We have also awarded a $1.5 million grant to a consortium of organizations that serve people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and deaf-blind. These organizations are developing model emergency preparedness community education programs for people who are deaf throughout the United States. The Council has also created of a comprehensive Resource Center, a web-based portal for information covering topics on emergency preparedness and response for individuals with disabilities, emergency planners, first responders and service providers.

I can’t describe for you all the progress we have made, but I would encourage you to read the report we filed with the President last week that sets out in great detail much more about these and other projects.

I want to emphasize that people with disabilities have not been and should not be simply consumers in this process. They have so much to offer all Americans because they and their families have thought a great deal about how to address vulnerabilities in times of crisis, and they bring innovation and determination to problem solving. By addressing this specific population’s needs, the entire emergency preparedness effort is significantly improved and strengthened.

And so, while we celebrate all that has been achieved as a result of the 15 years of the ADA, let’s also continue to work with determination to break down remaining barriers that prevent talented people from contributing to our country, particularly at a time when we are so much in need of those kinds of contributions.

I commend all of you for the great work that you do. I look forward to working with you in the years to come. And again, Lex, I want to thank for the introduction and for having me here.