Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa recently introduced bills in the U.S. Senate to promote economic independence for people with disabilities. The bills address access to housing, transportation, and exercise and call upon the U.S. Access Board to develop new accessibility guidelines and standards in each of these areas. They are based on findings from an investigation by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee into economic and employment issues faced by people with disabilities.
"To address the economic barriers Americans with disabilities still face, I am introducing three new bills as part of an 'Access for All' agenda to help them achieve the economic success necessary to be independent and lead full and fulfilling lives in their communities," stated Harkin who chairs the HELP Committee. "Today's report makes clear that even as more people with disabilities seek to enter the workforce, there are still too many barriers preventing them from becoming economically independent. When these Americans are not part of the workforce, they are much more likely to be stuck in poverty with no way of getting ahead."
The "Universal Home Design Act" would require certain accessibility features for single family homes and townhouses that are built or purchased with federal financial assistance. These include universal design features that would be established by the Access Board to ensure access to entrances, interior doors, environmental controls, and at least one indoor room, bathroom, and kitchen space. The bill also would create the Office of Accessible Housing and Development within the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The "Accessible Transportation for All Act" would require access to taxi services and ban discrimination based on disability by taxi companies and drivers. It would authorize competitions to create affordable and accessible taxi and car designs, require states to develop strategic plans to increase the availability of accessible cabs, direct the Access Board to issue accessible taxi standards and service standards, establish a new tax credit for access improvements undertaken by taxi companies, and create an Accessible Taxi Board at the Department of Transportation.
The "Exercise and Fitness for All Act" would require access to exercise and fitness equipment at gyms, heath clubs, colleges and universities, and other facilities, including treadmills, step machines, stationary bikes, rowing machines, weight machines, and circuit training and strength equipment. The Access Board would be tasked with developing new accessibility guidelines for such equipment within 18 months of enactment.
According to the HELP Committee report, people with disabilities often cannot participate in the workforce due to a lack of access to reliable transportation and to affordable housing, and they continue to report discrimination in the workplace, including wage inequality. The findings also address other economic issues and barriers faced by people with disabilities.