Statement of Jim Ward, Executive Director of ADA Watch Action Fund, a project of People For the American Way
Statement of Jim Ward, Executive Director of ADA Watch Action Fund, a project of People For the American Way As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush promised to fight to ensure that “all Americans with disabilities have every chance to pursue the American dream.” But President Bush’s recess appointment today of Gerald Reynolds as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights betrays Bush’s earlier commitment.
Reynolds will oversee the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), which is responsible for ensuring that school districts, colleges and universities comply with federal civil rights laws. Roughly 60 percent of all discrimination complaints that OCR investigates involve students with disabilities. For this reason, the person who heads OCR must be ready to enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and other federal laws that protect students with disabilities. But Reynolds fails this test.
In the 1990s, Reynolds criticized the ADA, claiming it would “retard economic development in urban centers across the country.” Reynolds has also served as Legal Analyst on the staff of the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO), a group that has repeatedly attacked the ADA and supported efforts to weaken this crucial law. Only a few months ago, a top CEO official blasted the ADA as “one of the worst-drafted statutes” and urged Congress to “make the act narrower.”
Reynolds’ nomination was opposed by a broad and diverse coalition, including Justin Dart, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient who is considered the father of the ADA, as well as organizations such as the National Organization on Disability, National Disabled Student Union, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Network.
This appointment is a serious setback for students—and all citizens—with disabilities. ADA Watch will closely monitor Reynolds’ actions and do everything in its power to uphold the ADA and the tremendous opportunities it has extended to so many Americans.