WASHINGTON — President Bush ordered federal agencies Tuesday to help states locate and use community services, rather than institutions, for people with disabilities.
"It is compassionate, it is needed, and it is now the federal official policy of my administration," he said.
The president ventured across the Potomac River to the Pentagon to highlight government efforts to accommodate disabled workers. He browsed a display of specialized computer technology — keyboards that ease carpal tunnel syndrome, voice-recognition systems for those who cannot use their hands, talking computers for the blind — developed by the Defense Department for some 20,000 of its employees and now commercially available.
Bush bent over a keyboard and typed a message to deaf student intern Jennifer McLaughlin, who was monitoring the Internet from a Defense Department facility miles away. "We will treat Americans with disabilities as people to be respected, rather than problems to be confronted," Bush said afterward.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said 21st-century security threats make it necessary for the military to "seek out the most capable people we can find, including the many talented Americans with disabilities."
"And, in this era of continuing advancing technology, there are possibilities to harness their talent in ways that were previously inconceivable," Rumsfeld said.
The president’s executive order follows a 1999 Supreme Court ruling that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires states, whenever possible, to place individuals with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions.
Bush said he wants his administration to make sure the decision is fully enforced and to "ensure that no one is unjustly institutionalized." His order applies broadly to services for all disabled people, not just those with mental disabilities.
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