As Prepared for Delivery on July 23, 2020
Good afternoon, everyone. This is NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood. Thank you very much for joining us today.
This Sunday, July 26, our nation marks an important milestone: the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (or “ADA”), 30 years ago, by President George H.W. Bush.
A vital step forward in the ongoing effort to extend our nation’s full promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, this landmark legislation transformed the lives of millions of Americans who’d been marginalized, disregarded, or cast aside into lives of dependence and segregation for far too long.
Indeed, the ADA was another important step forward for civil rights in the United States. It established a comprehensive national mandate that discrimination against those with disabilities would not be tolerated.
By protecting the rights of Americans with disabilities in areas in public life, in the workplace, in our schools, and elsewhere, the ADA changed perceptions and expanded disabled Americans’ ability to participate in every community across the country.
With the signing of the ADA, many disabled individuals could now enter the mainstream of American life; contribute to our national prosperity; and achieve the dignity and independence that so many yearned for.
In terms of impact on the workplace, the ADA brought into the fold a large and willing workforce of people who had previously lacked opportunities. It’s hard to imagine now just how much untapped human potential existed in that community. But once given a chance, these workers proved to be a tremendous force for good, bringing new insights, ideas, and energy to the workplace.
It wasn’t only Americans with disabilities who gained from this important legislation. In truth, it was a gain for all of us. In extending the promise of opportunity to those with disabilities, Americans came to appreciate more fully just how much this population had to offer.
At the NCUA, we have lead the way in creating an inclusive environment, a goal we continue to work toward. Through our leadership, we can model a commitment to diversity that others can follow. Indeed, I’m proud of this agency’s efforts, and those of the credit union and financial services industries in general, for their efforts to meet the ADA’s goals.
But that does not mean we will embrace a sense of complacency. While we’re proud of the efforts we’ve made to provide our employees with disabilities with the support they need to perform, we must always seek ways to do better.
And I think that captures the spirit that originally animated the ADA – it was about “doing better” for millions of Americans. In signing the legislation in July 1990, President Bush noted that, “Together we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted. For ours will never be a truly prosperous nation until all within it prosper.”
And fundamentally, that’s what the ADA was all about — breaking down the barriers to opportunity that held back many Americans and extending opportunity to those who’d been excluded. We still have barriers we need to break down and challenges to meet. But we accept those challenges as something we can overcome, and we’ll continue working to break down those barriers.
For those of us who work in and around the financial services industry, thinking about how we can break down barriers is particularly important when it comes to financial inclusion.
You’ve all heard me talk about how financial inclusion is the civil rights issue of our time and something that must be a top priority for the financial industry if we hope to address the inequities and injustices that continue to plague our society. And part of that discussion should be focused on ways we can improve financial inclusion for Americans with disabilities, and ways we can break down the barriers that have excluded them from access to quality, affordable financial services.
Finally, I would encourage everyone to reflect on the signing of the ADA as a stellar example of what we can achieve through vision, compromise, and leadership. Nothing about the establishment of this law was “a sure thing.” After all, it was a bold, new idea, and a sweeping legislative change that would have a significant impact on American life. So, it’s understandable that it might have been controversial, and that people might have had questions and concerns about the law’s full impact.
But our leaders at the time understood that they needed to work together on a bipartisan basis to make this a reality. So they listened to the concerns of all stakeholders — the courageous activists for the disabled, the business community, and taxpayers — to craft a reasonable compromise that worked. That took vision and courage.
My great hope is that today’s leaders can look back to that example of committed, forward-looking reform and seek ways to recapture that same spirit of constructive engagement, conciliation, and optimism.