Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Excerpts: Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at 2022 USDOT Celebration of the 32nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Thirty-two years ago, on March 12th, 1990, a thousand activists from across the country descended on Washington, D.C. to protest their government’s failure, as of then, to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

When they arrived at the National Mall, dozens of them cast aside their wheelchairs, crutches, and other assistance devices, and some began to crawl up the steps of the Capitol. One of them was an eight-year-old girl, who was the same age that I was at that time, declaring, “I’ll take all night if I have to.” 
Four months after that the ADA was signed into law. And the Americans with Disabilities Act is without question one of the most impactful pieces of civil rights legislation in the history of America. It expanded rights for one in four people in our country and transformed every aspect of our lives – from work to school and, of course, transportation, for the better.

One in four Americans has a disability. And any American who doesn’t have one today might develop one later on. In fact, two in five people over the age of 65 have a disability. So, the reality is that sooner or later a large percentage of Americans will end up benefiting personally and directly from the landmark civil rights afforded to us by the ADA.

Yet for all the progress that we have made we have yet to live up to the promises of true equality and full accessibility that were enacted in that law 32 years ago. 

A third of adults with disabilities don’t have a primary care physician. People with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed as people without. When it comes to transportation, three decades and counting after the ADA nearly a quarter of all transit stations in the country still aren’t accessible. 

That’s not right and that’s not fair.

I’m pleased to announce that a few days ago we at the DOT officially adopted a new set of disability policy priorities, which will guide our work over the next several years, and which you can read about at 

Those priorities include everything from improving our data gathering, to strengthening our enforcement of key legislation, to advancing diversity and accessibility in our own USDOT workforce. 

And I want to highlight a few items in particular right now. 

First, we’re working to make sure air travel is safe and accessible for everyone. We’ve already taken some big steps on that front. In March, we proposed a new rule that would increase the size of airplane bathrooms to better accommodate passengers who use wheelchairs, knowing that no one should have to choose between dehydrating themselves and avoiding air travel altogether.

Earlier this month we also released our bill of rights for airline passengers with disabilities, so that you can know exactly what rights you are entitled to when you fly, and so we can better hold airlines accountable. 

These are important steps to improve the safety and the dignity of air travel. And we can and should do more. 

Earlier this year, I met with Charles Brown, a Marine Corps veteran and the president of Paralyzed Veterans of America. He shared the story of how poorly trained airline employees once dropped him onto the jet bridge while removing him from his wheelchair during boarding – breaking his tailbone and causing an infection he barely survived.

And practically everyone who uses a wheelchair and flies, including colleagues of mine here at the DOT, has a troubling story about an airline experience. Many have far more than one.

No other form of transportation – trains, buses, boats – forces you to give up your mobility device when you board. And the same ought to be true of airlines.

So, in the months and years ahead we plan to record a new rule, that will allow passengers to stay in their personal wheelchairs when they fly. 

We know this won’t happen overnight, but it is a goal that we have to work to fulfill. 

And in the meantime, we’ve announced plans for a rule that will hold airlines accountable for how they handle passengers in wheelchairs – ensuring they do so safely and responsibly.  

Another of our priorities concerns technology. By now, we’ve all heard about self-driving cars and we’ve thought about their revolutionary potential to help people with disabilities and older Americans get around more easily. 

We also know that new technology can always cut both ways. We have to make sure that accessibility is part of the design conversation from the very beginning.

That’s why DOT started the Inclusive Design Challenge. It’s a competition to identify the most promising ideas for making automated vehicles accessible for people with a broad range of disabilities, whether physical, sensory, or cognitive.

Finally, I want to discuss how we’re using funding through the Infrastructure Law to modernize old, outdated, inaccessible public transit stations. 

As I have mentioned before, over a quarter of stations still fall into that category. Now, we have a chance to fix that. 

I’m proud that today we are launching the All Stations Accessibility Program, or ASAP. The new initiative to retrofit old rail and subway stations with federal funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure law. It’s going to mean adding elevators, ramps, and other physical and sensory improvements, so the one in seven Americans who have a mobility disability can finally rely on transit to get to work, go shopping, see family, and simply go about their lives. 

There may be resistance to some of the policies that I’ve discussed and others that we’re pursuing. We may hear claims that they place too great a burden on airlines, or automakers, or transit agencies. We have to remember that is exactly what they said about the ADA itself 32 years ago. 

History proved them decidedly wrong, and I believe it will again. 

The fact is, improving accessibility benefits everyone in this country. Those with a disability, and everyone else. When people with wheelchairs can fly safely that means that more customers for airlines. When new cars are accessible, more people will buy them. When we improve transit stations that means more fare revenue to use to improve the system, less traffic on the road for drivers, and less pollution in the air for all of us.

And accessibility means that, not only will people with disabilities be accommodated, but they’re empowered to fully contribute to families, to workplaces, and to communities. That’s why everyone is better off when anyone can get to where they need to be. 

All of these efforts are rooted in countless hours of conversation and engagement with the disability community. And we are grateful for the experience and the perspective and the wisdom that so many of the advocates here today have shared with us. 

As we saw so powerfully with the Capitol Crawl, creating an accessible country, and a more perfect union, requires that our policies reflect the voices and the lived experiences of this community. It makes our country a better place to live with a disability. It makes our country a better place to live, period.