National Council on Disability
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First established as an advisory Council within the United States Department of Education in 1978, the National Council on Disability (NCD) became an independent federal agency in 1984. In 1986, NCD recommended enactment of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Since enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, NCD has continued to play a leading role in crafting disability policy, and advising the President, Congress and other federal agencies on disability policies, programs, and practices. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The agency works to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures to give all people with disabilities equal opportunity with the end goal being economic self-sufficiency and independent living.
- Review and evaluate federal policies, programs, practices, and procedures concerning people with disabilities, including programs established or assisted under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, and the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act.
- Review and evaluate all statutes and regulations pertaining to federal programs that assist people with disabilities, to assess their effectiveness in meeting the needs of these people.
- Review and evaluate emerging federal, state, local, and private sector policy issues that affect people with disabilities, including the need for and coordination of adult services, access to personal assistance services, school reform efforts and the impact of these efforts on persons with disabilities, access to health care, and policies that operate as disincentives for individuals to seek and retain employment.
- Make recommendations to the President, Congress, the Secretary of Education, the Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, and other officials of federal agencies regarding ways to promote equal opportunity, economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society for Americans with disabilities.
- Provide Congress with advice, recommendations, legislative proposals, and other information that NCD or Congress deems appropriate.
- Gather information about the implementation, effectiveness, and impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.
- Advise the President, Congress, the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education, and the Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research on the development of programs to be carried out under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended.
- Advise the Commissioner on the policies and conduct of the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
- Make recommendations to the Director of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research on research affecting people with disabilities.
- Advise the Interagency Disability Coordinating Council on priorities for its activities and review the recommendations of the council for legislative and administrative changes.
- Prepare and submit to the President and Congress an annual report, National Disability Policy: A Progress Report.
Consumers Served and Current Activities
While many government agencies deal with issues and programs affecting people with disabilities, NCD is unique in that it is the only federal agency charged with addressing, analyzing, and making recommendations on issues of public policy that affect people with disabilities regardless of age, disability type, perceived employment potential, economic need, specific functional ability, status as a veteran, or other individual circumstance. NCD recognizes its unique opportunity to facilitate independent living, community integration, and employment opportunities for people with disabilities by ensuring an informed and coordinated approach to addressing the concerns of people with disabilities and eliminating barriers to their active participation in community and family life.
NCD is also proud to have played a pivotal role in the adoption of the ADA in 1990. Since that time, NCD has been a valuable contributor in promoting successful disability policies in many areas, including education, transportation, emergency preparedness, international disability rights, employment, foster youth with disabilities, vocational rehabilitation, livable communities, and crime victims with disabilities to name a few.
In 1984 a small, advisory body in the Department of Education (ED), known then as the National Council on the Handicapped, was elevated to the status of an independent federal agency. The legislation that made what is now called the National Council on Disability (NCD) independent also gave it an ambitious agenda that greatly exceeded its size and modest resources. Among other duties, it was charged with reviewing all federal laws and programs affecting people with disabilities and assessing the extent to which those laws and programs encouraged the establishment of community-based services; promoted full integration in the community, schools, and the workplace; and contributed to the independence and dignity of people with disabilities. NCD was then directed to use this assessment to recommend legislative proposals to increase incentives and eliminate disincentives in federal programs. Finally, NCD was to present this information in a report to the President and Congress. To complete this imposing task, NCD’s 15 Council members and its small staff were given two years.
These responsibilities were in addition to other ongoing, statutorily mandated duties such as establishing general policies for and overseeing research activities sponsored by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR); reviewing and evaluating federal rehabilitation programs; and advising the President, Congress, the Commissioner of Rehabilitation, the appropriate Assistant Secretary of ED, and the Director of NIDRR on the development of programs carried out under the Rehabilitation Act. In periodic revisions to NCD’s statutory mission, Congress has not only continued most of the original duties assigned to NCD but has added more. In 1992, for example, NCD was asked to “review and evaluate on a continuing basis new and emerging disability policy issues affecting individuals with disabilities at the federal, state, and local levels, and in the private sector, including the need for and coordination of adult services, access to personal assistance services, school reform efforts and the impact of such efforts on individuals with disabilities, access to health care, and policies that operate as disincentives for the individuals to seek and retain employment.”
Out of a profound sense of the importance of its mission, unwavering optimism about the future of Americans with disabilities, and perhaps, at times, an underestimation of the massive tasks it undertook, NCD has never shied away from its designated duties. NCD believes that this determination has produced an impressive body of accomplishments. In some ways, NCD has been a “mouse that roared.” NCD is aware that for over three decades the agency has been fortunate in having highly capable Council members and staff as well as the consistent support of Congress and the various administrations it has served.
The period since 1984 has been an important one in the evolution of the status and rights of people with disabilities in the United States. Although the 1970s have been characterized as a shift “from charity to rights,” when individuals with disabilities sought to establish through court cases and protest actions that they were entitled to basic civil and human rights, the past two decades have seen equal opportunity, independent living, integration, and full participation—values specifically adopted in NCD’s statutory purpose—emerge as the official objectives of the Federal Government’s laws, programs, and policies. Such progress has placed NCD front and center in offering recommendations for achieving these objectives and for identifying ways in which current efforts are falling short.
In 1994 Marca Bristo became the first disabled person to serve as chair of the NCD.
NCD’s key contribution has been to serve as a focal point within the Federal Government for issues affecting people with disabilities. NCD fields thousands of telephone calls, e-mail messages, and letters each year from concerned individuals and organizations, and its award-winning Web site receives nearly eight million hits annually. NCD disseminates important disability-related information through its listserv and via regular reports, an annual report, position papers, policy briefs, and alerts to disability organizations, the Internet, and ongoing interaction with the news media.
In addition to the numerous meetings, discussions, consultations, comments, briefings, press events, awards, conferences, and various other activities in which NCD has engaged, NCD has generated a large quantity of documents over the past 32 years. NCD’s Web site makes available different kinds of written products, including reports, papers, news releases, presentations, speeches, testimony, and monthly issues of the NCD Bulletin. This section does not attempt to recount or summarize all these diverse documents, although they are often significant and informative. NCD reports can be reviewed and downloaded from its Web site.
National Council on Disability Members
- Clyde E. Terry, Chairperson
- Katherine D. Seelman, Co Vice-Chair
- Royal P. Walker, Jr., Co-Vice Chair
- Gary Blumenthal
- Bob Brown
- Lt. Col. Daniel Gade
- Janice Lehrer-Stein
- Benro T. Ogunyipe
- Neil Romano
- Lynnae Ruttledge
- Clyde Terry