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Bigby_JudyAnn_2Posted by:
JudyAnn Bigby, MD, Secretary of Health and Human Services


Today, I was honored to participate in commemorating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), at a celebration in Boston Common sponsored by the New England ADA Center. This landmark civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination of persons with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations and communication.  For people with disabilities, the act has meant greater equality, inclusion and accessibility in daily life.


Much progress has been made since the signing of the ADA, but there is still much work to be done to promote equality and self-sufficiency.  The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) and the Patrick-Murray Administration are deeply committed to expanding ADA initiatives beyond non-discriminatory practices — to include the promotion of independence for people with disabilities. As part of that commitment, in 2008, the Administration instituted Community First, a plan that supports people with disabilities to live successfully in their homes and communities.  Key components of Community First include: aiding individuals to transition from institutional care, expanding access to affordable and accessible housing, promoting choice, empowering consumers by developing long-term supports that are high quality and patient-centered throughout health agencies, and increasing understanding of long-term supports.


One of the key initiatives of the Community First plan is to address economic security of people with disabilities, as there is much to be done with respect to the employment of disabled persons and equality.  While the unemployment rate for the general population in June of this year exceeded nine percent, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was over 14 percent in the same time period.

To improve the recruitment and advancement of people with disabilities within the Executive Branch of state government, the Massachusetts Disability Task Force on Employment was formed in May 2008 to develop policies and practices to attract, hire, promote and retain employees with disabilities.  The Task Force’s Model Employer plan created a centralized process and fund to support reasonable accommodations for employees who are disabled, developed specialized training programs, built a targeted intern program for people with disabilities and promoted the process by which people can voluntarily and confidentially identify themselves as a person with a disability.


Throughout Health and Human Services, agencies support employment programs that invoke the spirit of the ADA.  For example, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) assists individuals with disabilities to live and work independently through its Vocational Rehabilitation Services program, which provides several programs that support employment, including: interest and aptitude testing, college or vocation training, job placement assistance, skills training, supported work, assistive and/or rehabilitation technology and educating employers about ADA, among other services.  One of MRC’s top priorities is to collaborate with employers in creating job opportunities for people with disabilities.  In May, MRC and two of its advisory boards recognized seven employers in the Commonwealth for their commitment to hiring individuals with disabilities.


EOHHS is partnering with the Commonwealth Medicine Center for Health Policy and Research and the Institute for Community Inclusion to form Work Without Limits.  The program is a public-private partnership which brings together employers, policy researchers, employment service providers, and other stakeholders to provide work opportunities for people with disabilities.


Under the Model Employer effort of the Executive Branch, MRC has established an internship program for people with disabilities.  Similarly, the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB) offers a longstanding public-private internship program for legally blind high school and college students to gain early work experience. The program helps students develop professional skills by matching qualified interns with an appropriate employer and provides students with a stipend, orientation and mobility services, and any necessary adaptive technology.  Since its inception in 2004, the MCB intern program has grown from two to 40 interns.


Let’s all celebrate the anniversary of the ADA and the progress that has been made over the last 20 years. There is still ground to cover, but the initiatives spearheaded by the Administration and EOHHS embrace ADA’s anti-discrimination measures and bring the Commonwealth closer to achieving equality for people with disabilities. 


For more information on today’s anniversary, I encourage visiting the New England ADA Center’s page commemorating the 20th anniversary of ADA as well as a commemorative video marking the anniversary.

Written By:

Communications Office

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