Secretary Sebelius Gives Keynote Address on Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS), marked the 21st anniversary of the passage of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with a keynote address at the American
Association of People with Disabilities anniversary event and award celebration
in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, July 26.

Sebelius called the passage of the ADA a “great
civil rights achievement.” She noted that while it is important to look
back on the progress that was made in the last 21 years, “we must also
look forward and recommit ourselves to achieving the law’s goals of
ensuring ‘equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living
and economic self-sufficiency’ for all Americans with disabilities.

“In the last 2 years, we have taken significant
steps to make that happen,” she told the audience. “While the ADA
broke down barriers in housing and the workplace, schools, shopping malls,
telecommunications and public transportation, it left one key barrier:
discrimination in the health insurance market. But through the Affordable Care
Act, we are finally bringing this practice to an end. Thanks to the law,
insurers can no longer turn children away just because they were born with a
disability. Insurers are also prohibited from putting arbitrary lifetime caps
on benefits that leave people with disabilities without the care they needed
when they needed it most.”

Sebelius explained that through the health care law, HHS
is also working with states to make it easier for Americans with disabilities
to get the support and services they need to live in their own communities.

“Americans with disabilities deserve a better
choice than living in an institution or living at home with no support at all
and we are working to make sure they have it,” she said. “This work
is at the heart of our mission at the Department of Health and Human

As examples of HHS’s commitment to this mission,
Sebelius referred to recent announcements, including the Administration on
Aging announcement of $1.1 million being made available to six new states to
enhance the quality of the Lifespan Respite Care Program. In addition, on the
same day as the ADA anniversary, the HHS Advisory Committee on Minority Health
a new report on health equity for minority persons with
. In the report, the committee made five recommendations for
addressing what they found as a lack of data, knowledge and culturally
competent care specific to minorities with disabilities.

Sebelius also noted that the Centers for Medicare &
Medicaid Services will award $2.1 million to four states to pursue innovative
strategies to help people with disabilities transition from institutions to
community living.

“We have a long way to go to make good on the
promise of the ADA, but we are headed in the right direction,” Sebelius
said. “Our department continues to work with our partners across the
administration and the country to ensure that Americans with disabilities have
the opportunity to live full and rich lives and make the most of their talents
and abilities.”

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