Recently, President Clinton commemorated the 10th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He stated that the ADA “signaled a transformation in our nation’s public policies toward people with disabilities.”

In pushing for passage of this law, proponents for and individuals with mental and physical disabilities wanted recognition of the fact that disabled people are people first, with the same needs and the same rights as all others.

The President noted, “In the last 10 years, we have worked hard to eliminate harmful stereotypes and have grown to understand disability as a natural part of the human experience. We are taking steps, such as renovating and constructing public accommodations to make them fully accessible, to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into our communities and workplaces.”

Looking for Opportunity

The primary goals of the ADA have been equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency, as the President said. In other words, the disabled want to have the opportunity to get a job and become a taxpayer just like the rest of us. So it’s not a matter of looking for a handout, but one of looking for work.

Excellent training programs exist for people with disabilities, such as the one at Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mt. Clemens, MI. But those graduating need a shot at a permanent job. This requires employers willing to reach out and include the disabled.

Why am I concerned about disabled people? I have a teenage son who is mentally disabled æ he is autistic æ and I’d like for him to have the opportunity to work when he finishes his schooling and earn his keep. But it won’t be that easy for him to land a job.

As the President acknowledged, people with disabilities are “an untapped resource.” He added, “Because the many barriers confronting people with disabilities took generations to develop, breaking them down requires consistent, coordinated, and farsighted effort.

“We must work aggressively to increase the employment rates of people with disabilities by attacking a range of work disincentives, including barriers to education, health care, technology, housing, and transportation.

“We must provide real choices for people with disabilities to live and work in their communities with the necessary services and supports.”

Drop Dis, Focus on Ability

The disabled want to be able to fully participate in the American dream. Many of them are able to, and want to, work. Thus, the disabled should actually be viewed as “differently abled.” They don’t have the same abilities that “normal” people do. But they do have abilities, and they can contribute.

The mentally disabled still have able bodies. The physically disabled still have able minds.

“Promoting disability rights not only improves the lives of the 54 million Americans with disabilities, it improves all of our lives,” President Clinton said. “As President Franklin Roosevelt [who was himself physically disabled] recognized more than 60 years ago, in words that are now inscribed on the FDR Memorial in our nation’s capital: ‘No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.’”

The American Association of People with Disabilities conducted a “Spirit of ADA” torch relay across the country as part of the anniversary celebration. The theme was “Renew the Pledge,” encouraging individuals, organizations, and the government to reaffirm their commitment to the ADA.

I encourage all hvacr employers µ contractors, wholesale-distributors, and manufacturers µ to reaffirm, or affirm for the first time, a commitment to considering and including the disabled. In jobs where they are capable of doing the work, please don’t let their disability automatically exclude them.

We do a lot to make sure we don’t waste our precious natural resources. Let’s also make sure we don’t waste our precious human resources.

Mazurkiewicz is new products/technologies editor. He can be reached at 248-244-6248; 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 10/02/2000