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Introduction: Understanding the Context for the 'Coelho Challenge' - Our Right to Work, Our Demand to be Heard: People With Disabilities, the 2004 Election, and Beyond


The Honorable Tony Coelho


New York Law School, c/o Labor and Employment Law Program

Seth D. Harris


New York Law School


New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 48, 2004

Abstract:     
On October 24, 2003, former Congressman Tony Coelho delivered this speech challenging the disabilities community and the 2004 presidential candidates to put the employment of people with disabilities at the heart of their agendas. His speech was presented by New York Law School's Labor & Employment Law Program. The introduction which accompanies the speech puts Congressman Coelho's address in historical context.

Coelho, a six-term congressman, was elected by his colleagues to be the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives: the Majority Whip. Coelho's greatest legislative accomplishment, however, was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which he sponsored and steered to passage in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Coelho's speech proposes a five-part agenda for federal policy regarding the employment of people with disabilities:

"First, I believe the disability community should only support candidates who pledge to appoint judges who will respect the ADA as the law of this land." This part features one of the Act's authors criticizing the Rehnquist Court's interpretation of the ADA.

"Second, to reverse the damage caused by these [Supreme Court] decisions, we should only support those candidates who pledge to restore the ADA to its original goals and purposes." This section promotes an ADA Restoration Act.

"Third, I believe we should only support those candidates who pledge to use the federal government's massive purchasing power to increase the employment of people with disabilities in the private sector." This section demands expansion of employment and contracting opportunities for people with disabilities, reform of the Javits-Wagner-O'Day program, and affirmative action in employment for people with disabilities.

"Fourth, the disability community should only support those candidates who will dramatically increase the number of people with disabilities employed by the federal government."

"Fifth, the disability community should only support those candidates who will change the federal policies that stop people with disabilities from working." This section seeks comprehensive reform of the Social Security Disability Insurance system.

The introduction discusses the connections between Congressman Coelho's speech and his efforts, undertaken at President Clinton's request, to implement Executive Order No. 13078. This Clinton Executive Order launched a process, which Coelho helped to lead, for reconciling the often inconsistent programs and policies that emerged during three distinct phases in the history of federal policy regarding the employment of people with disabilities: a "sustenance" phase, a "rehabilitation" phase, and an "anti-discrimination" phase.

Executive Order No. 13078 recognized that, while necessary, the ADA and the anti-discrimination phase's other constituent parts would not be sufficient to fully integrate people with disabilities into the American workplace, especially given that federal policies and programs from the sustenance and rehabilitation phases did not always serve the same goals yet remained in effect. The executive order's substantive agenda focused almost exclusively on re-engineering existing federal policies. Thus, President Clinton's executive order commenced a new and distinct phase in the history of federal disability employment policy: the course-correction phase.

Congressman Coelho played a leading role in the anti-discrimination phase and an equally leading role in the course-correction phase. His unique status made him an eyewitness to and a possible bridge between these two phases in the history of federal disability employment policy.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: ADA, Americans With Disabilities Act, Disability Policy, Disability History, Federal Policy, Executive Order, Clinton, Coelho, Discrimination, Employment, Employment Rate, Javits-Wagner-O'Day, Public Policy, President

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Date posted: June 3, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Coelho, The Honorable Tony and Harris, Seth D., Introduction: Understanding the Context for the 'Coelho Challenge' - Our Right to Work, Our Demand to be Heard: People With Disabilities, the 2004 Election, and Beyond. New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 48, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=555404

Contact Information

Tony Coelho
New York Law School, c/o Labor and Employment Law Program ( email )
185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
Seth D. Harris (Contact Author)
New York Law School ( email )
185 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
United States
212-431-2826 (Phone)
212-431-3295 (Fax)
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