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Toward Independence and the Vision of an ADA - Part 9

Pulling Together a Full Draft of the Report, Including a “Chart” of Federal Disability Programs

The Council had scheduled a quarterly meeting on November 18-20, 1985, for formal approval of the report. As a result, work on the report shifted into an even higher gear near the end of October. On October 30, a group of disability rights movement leaders, including Dr. Sam Anderson, Marca Bristo, Dr. Phillip Calkins, Bob Cooper, Bob Funk, Evan Kemp, Oral Miller, David Myers, Dr. Leonard Sawisch, and Dr. Carolyn Vash, met in Washington, went over a summary of the individual draft topic papers and the recommendations in each topic area, and offered comments and suggested modifications. This input was then considered by the drafters of the topic papers for possible modifications to the papers.

Completing the various pieces of the report, including the topic papers, and melding them into a single full document (actually two documents – the summary report and the Appendix with the full text of the topic papers) required a ton of work by the entire staff, with considerable input and oversight by the Council. Ethel Briggs was endeavoring to get the topic papers collected for the Appendix. Given my responsibility for assembling the summary report, a big chunk of work during the final push fell to me. Part of the process was simply gathering preexisting Council documents – a description of the Council, a roster of Council members and staff, and biographies of members of the Council – and inserting them as front or end matter in the report. With Lex’s guidance, I drafted a page-and-a-half transmittal letter to President Reagan that was inserted in the front of the report; identical letters were addressed to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to accompany the sending of the report to them. The “Priority Listing of Federal Programs Affecting Persons with Disabilities” was inserted near the end of the draft report, with a notation that “the list which follows is being reviewed and verified.”

Other additions to the report were of newly drafted substantive material. I wrote a new “Introduction.” Sounding a note of self-sufficiency and independence that I knew would appeal to the Council, I began with a quotation from President Theodore Roosevelt that I found in a book of quotations: “Our country calls not for the life of ease, but for the life of strenuous endeavor.”[1]  I then built upon the strenuous life theme to impart, at the very beginning of the report, some insights about the nature of disability and commonalities and differences in the experience of people with disabilities and other people:

As for other Americans, life for people with disabilities involves striving, working, taking risks, failing, learning, and overcoming obstacles. We have all had the experience of seeking something that eludes us, of trying to reach a goal that seems to dance just out of reach. Most of us have also had the rewarding experience of surmounting obstacles to achieve a goal or accomplish a task, succeeding even though someone else or even we ourselves doubted we could do it.

A major difference between persons with disabilities and other individuals is the number, degree, and complexity of the barriers they face in trying to achieve their personal goals and fulfillment. Some of these barriers result from the disabilities themselves – a disability may be considered to be the lack of some mental, physical, or emotional "tool" which most other people can call upon in addressing life's tasks.

After giving several examples of how various categories of disabilities can interfere with activities and functions, I noted, however, that major limitations result not from disabilities themselves but from the attitudes of other people and barriers built into facilities and practices: “[W]hatever the limitations associated with particular disabilities, people with disabilities have been saying for years that their major obstacles are not inherent in their disabilities, but arise from barriers that have been imposed externally and unnecessarily.” To support this point, I quoted the conclusion of an international group of experts on disability convened by the United Nations:

Despite everything we can do, or hope to do, to assist each physically or mentally disabled person achieve his or her maximum potential in life, our efforts will not succeed until we have found the way to remove the obstacles to this goal directed by human society – the physical barriers we have created in public buildings, housing, transportation, houses of worship, centers of social life, and other community facilities – the social barriers we have evolved and accepted against those who vary more than a certain degree from what we have been conditioned to regard as normal. More people are forced into limited lives and made to suffer by these man-made obstacles than by any specific physical or mental disability.[2]

I believe this conceptualization of the interplay between disability and disability discrimination is fundamental, and I took the opportunity to highlight it in the report.

In early October, I had created a placeholder for a section to be called “Current Priorities in Federal Programs.” The section would contain the general, cross-cutting findings from the Council’s review of federal laws and programs. The draft of the report prepared for review at the November meeting presented the following three general conclusions:

  1. Only approximately one-third of persons with disabilities receive federal income support.
  2. Overall, federal disability programs reflect an overemphasis on income upport and an underemphasis of initiatives for equal opportunity, independence, and self-sufficiency.
  3. More emphasis should be placed upon Federal programs providing initiatives to encourage and assist private sector efforts to promote opportunities and independence for individuals with disabilities.

These conclusions not only represented accurately the Council’s assessment of federal priorities relating to disability, but were articulated in a way that sounded a fiscally conservative, self-sufficiency note pleasing to the Reagan Administration and the more conservative members of the Council, while recognizing the need for federal initiatives to assist people with disabilities achieve such self-sufficiency. The first finding sought to rebut the commonly held belief that most people with disabilities were feeding at the trough of federal aid. The second endorsed the concept of additional federal programs to promote equality and independence, as reflected in the legislative recommendations in the report. The third was a broad, somewhat vague bow to the private sector, suggesting federal support for initiatives to promote opportunities in that sphere. The Council’s decision to include in the report a chart of programs in the Executive Branch that focused on some aspect of disability and the entities in the Congress that had jurisdiction over them needed to be carried out by someone, and, by default, that someone turned out to be me. Making charts and graphic illustrations was something I had neither experience in nor any particular aptitude for, but the task probably gravitated to me because it involved questions of federal government structure, congressional jurisdiction, and government agency lines of authority that no one else wanted to try to unravel. The list of federal disability programs (the priority listing) designated the federal agency that was responsible for administering each program, so the first step was to go through the list and group the programs under the agency that administered them, and then to identify what cabinet-level department or independent executive agency was over them. Somewhat more research and checking were needed to identify the congressional committees with jurisdiction and oversight responsibility over the programs, but I was eventually able to compile all this information.

The next challenge was how to present the information in graphic form. I have no skill at drawing to speak of, but I took a pencil and on one side of piece of paper made a crude sketch of something that looked a bit like an old-time army helmet or maybe a female breast, but was supposed to represent the U.S. Capitol; and, on the other side, a rectangle with a wavy top that I meant to signify the White House. Beneath the representation of the Capitol, I made freehand drawings of a box with the word “Senate” inside and another with “House of Representatives.” On the White House side, I drew boxes to represent the cabinet agencies and the independent agencies, and, under them, the programs affecting people with disabilities. For a later iteration of the chart, I taped three 8½-by-11 pages together end to end, used a ruler to make actual rectangles for the boxes. I continued to revise and add to the chart as I got additional information. By the time of the draft of the report for the November meeting of the Council, we had chosen to title the chart “Key Federal Programs and Corresponding Legislative Committees,” and Lex and the Council had availed themselves of better artistic and graphic representation skills than mine to provide proper boxes (with 3-D border shading!) and respectable representations of the Capitol and the White House. The lettering inside the boxes, however, was hand printed, and more boxes would still need to be added.

The heart and biggest section of the draft summary report the Council considered for approval at its November meeting was derived from the topic papers. Titled “Analysis of Federal Programs in Specific Topic Areas with Legislative Recommendations,” the section presented, for each of the 10 topic areas, introductory materials ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages succinctly giving an overview of the problems addressed in the topic paper (contained in full in the report’s Appendix), and legislative recommendations for dealing with them followed by a short rationale and explanation. Boiling down the lengthy and detailed topic papers to a few pages was quite a challenge; comparably difficult was refining the legislative recommendations to make them politically feasible, legally sound, stylistically consistent with one another, and acceptable to the Council.

With the November 18-20 Council meeting date breathing down our necks, we pulled out all stops to get the various pieces together into a complete, somewhat final draft of the report for the Council to consider. I ended up working most of the weekend before the meeting, including overnight on Sunday November 17, finalizing the draft. Somehow, we managed to get the draft report done and were able to give it to the Council, if not a completely polished, ultimate version, one that was sufficiently together for the members to review, amend as they felt necessary, and take up for a vote.

Continue on to Part 10: Presentation of the Draft Report to the Council, Its Consideration and Acceptance of the Report, and Revisions Made After the Meeting

[1] Theodore Roosevelt, Speech, “The Strenuous Life” (Chicago, 1899), quoted in George Seldes, The Great Quotations, p. 613 (Pocket Books, 1967).

[2] Report of the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Barrier-Free Design, International Rehabilitation Review, vol. 26, p. 3 (1975).