Skip Navigation

Office on Disability

Record of Accomplishment 2004

In 2001, President Bush recognized that too many persons with disabilities still remained outside looking in on meaningful employment, home ownership, educational opportunity, the power and promise of technology, and productive lives in their home communities. He launched the New Freedom Initiative to help ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives and participate fully in community life.

With the New Freedom Initiative providing the impetus for change nationwide, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created the Office on Disability (OD) in mid-2002.  The Office is charged with the responsibility to: (a) Lead the HHS New Freedom Initiative; (b) Oversee, coordinate, develop and implement disability programs and initiatives within HHS that impact people with disabilities; (c) Ensure that persons with disabilities across the lifespan have a voice within HHS; and (d) Heighten the interaction of programs within HHS and with federal, state, community and private sector partners. Since that time, the OD has worked vigorously at the federal, states, and community levels to help break down the remaining barriers to the full integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of everyday life: employment and education, in housing and transportation, and in health care and the use of adaptive technologies. 

By providing a voice for persons with disabilities within HHS; coordinating programs and initiatives related to disability issues within HHS; and reaching out to federal, state, tribal, community, and private sector partners, the OD not only has been able further to leverage public and private resources to their optimum across service sectors, but also has been enabling America realize the promise of the President’s New Freedom Initiative for 54 million persons with disabilities of all kinds living everyone across the United States. 

Guiding Principles 

The Office on Disability has been guided by a vision, a mission, and a strategic action plan, all of which also have been aided by input from disability-related individuals and organizations. The vast majority of the Office’s work to bridge federal programs, to engage at the state and local levels, and to build partnerships with private sector organizations, businesses and programs has occurred as a direct result of its mission and the valued input of the people the Office serves.

Because duplication and overlap thwart a one-HHS approach to serving persons with disabilities, the OD undertook a review of disability programs across the Department both to identify them and to break down program silos to leverage programs and dollars to their utmost. The report highlights how HHS service, education and research funds have been budgeted for and spent for programs affecting persons with disabilities in Fiscal Years 2002-2003. It compares these findings with the identified needs of persons with disabilities and weighs how well both dollars and programs supported the goals and objectives of the New Freedom Initiative at the community and individual levels. The Office is assessing Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 budget data.

Supporting the New Freedom Initiative  (NFI)

Guided by its strategic plan, the OD’s activities encompass those of the President’s New Freedom Initiative: housing, education, employment, transportation, assistive technology, and community integration. A seventh domain – health – was added and has been the subject of substantial attention, consistent with the Secretary’s priority on health and wellness and with the development of the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities, planned for release in mid-2005. The Call to Action’s focus on both wellness promotion and health care services represents a critical intersection between the work of the OD and the President’s Healthier US initiative.

Educating about Disability and the Abilities of Persons with Disabilities 

Since enactment in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has promoted better understanding about the lives, needs, challenges, and triumphs of persons with disabilities. In the spirit of the ADA and the President’s New Freedom Initiative, the OD continues to broaden understanding and awareness of both the contributions and the need of persons with disabilities, celebrating triumphs and pointing the way to new challenges.

  • Celebrating Successes of Persons with Disabilities: During October’s Disability Awareness Month, the OD organizes and convenes the Secretary’s Celebration of Persons with Disabilities. At each event, the Secretary’s highest recognition awards are presented to persons (representing businesses, entertainment, providers, media, advocates, elected officials and consumers) for their work on behalf of persons with disabilities.
  • Celebrating President Bush’s NFI Executive Order: The FY 2004 celebration of President Bush’s 2001 New Freedom Initiative Executive Order took the form of a conference titled Emerging Workforce:  Dispelling Myths…It Can Be Done. Convened in Florida in February 2004, it was cosponsored with LIFE, INC. (Living Independence for Everyone) and the Florida Family Support Project: Juntos Podemos (Together We Can). 

Advancing NFI Objectives and More 

In Housing: Deterring Homelessness

  • Promoting Affordable, Available Housing Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities: The OD convened  two live, webcast, housing symposia (2003, 2004), in collaboration with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the National Institutes of Health, the NCB Development Corporation, and the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, providing national disability constituent organizations with a roadmap to help persons with disabilities understand how states, communities, and local constituency organizations can work with their public housing authorities to foster homeownership and reduce the risk for homelessness for persons with disabilities and can better ensure attention to universal design and access modification.

In Employment Opportunity

  • Promoting Information on Tax Incentives for Employers and Tax Credits for Persons with Disabilities: Working with the Internal Revenue Service and the NCB Development Corporation/National Disability Institute, the OD created the TAX FACTS Campaign. In partnership with an array of federal and private-sector partners, this campaign is building knowledge about and using favorable tax provisions, financial education, and asset building for individuals with disabilities, their families, and employers to empower and advance self-directed economic security. The initiative includes a new brochure addressing tax credits for persons with disabilities, developed by the OD and Internal Revenue Service.

In Community Integration

  • Emergency Preparedness Addressing the Health Needs of Persons with Disabilities: A July 2004 Executive Order by President Bush on emergency preparedness for federal employees with disabilities was the springboard for creation of the Emergency Preparedness NFI Subcommittee to help ensure that the health and access needs of all persons with disabilities are addressed in emergency preparedness plans at the federal, state, tribal and community levels. It is (a) identifying standard requirements that all emergency plans should include; (b) ensuring that plans include disability-specific action steps and are up-to-date; (c) developing and implementing emergency response education and training plans for persons with disabilities, particularly in the workplace; and (d) establishing and implementing a promotion plan to ensure all persons with disabilities understand how to prepare for an emergency. 

In Assistive Technology

  • HHS Section 508 Information Technology Adherence: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal agency electronic and information technology to be fully accessible to Federal employees with disabilities. The OD manages and promotes HHS adherence to Section 508 compliance, undertaking ongoing oversight and training and technical assistance as part of the HHS Section 508 Program Team. The Section 508 Department-wide Implementation Policy, signed by the HHS Secretary, was set into practice, effective January 6, 2005; training on 508 compliance policy for all HHS staff is ongoing through OD. 
  • Office on Disability Website:  Consistent with its charge, the OD has developed the first HHS web-based information resource on disability; it serves as a focal point for HHS-related disability information. This clearinghouse for HHS and other federal disability-related information and activities includes links to all HHS agencies and federal partners and, by the end of 2005, will link to all State Offices on Disability as well. Further enhancements include integrated telecommunication capacity and information systems to provide online caseworker tools and searchable state resource tools to promote the availability of community-based resources to persons with disability nationwide.

In Transportation

  • Coordinating Transportation:  The OD, joined by other partner agencies, is helping the federal Transportation Administration meet the disability-related requirements of the President’s February 2004 Executive Order on Human Service Transportation. The OD provides guidance and consumer-based input to assure that the transportation needs of persons with disabilities are integral in the planning and implementation of the Executive Order, including such issues as simplified access; availability of transportation in rural, suburban and urban areas; cost-effective transportation services within existing resources; and cost-efficient, non-duplicative use of funding streams. 

In Health and Wellness Promotion

  • Physical Fitness for Youth with Disabilities:   As part of the President’s Healthier US initiative, the OD created  I Can Do It; You Can Do It a program to promote physical fitness among children and youth with disabilities. Working with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport, this program reaches out to national constituent-based organizations to match physically fit adult mentors with children and youth with disabilities who choose to enter the program. To date, 78 organizations have expressed interest in participating and have helped draft program guidelines and procedures. Nine organizations are piloting this approach to integrating physical fitness into the lives of their constituents. A formal evaluation is underway to assess the pilot program’s effectiveness and its broader application. 

  • Medicare/Medicaid: The OD maintains a close relationship with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) to provide regular, ongoing input into disability-related issues in Medicare and Medicaid based, in part, on extensive input from OD constituents and other disability community stakeholders.  The OD has—

    • Convenes OD-CMS interdepartmental meeting, such as one to promote joint funding of initiatives through Medicaid's Systems Change/Real Choice Grants.
    • In collaboration with CMS, trains state Medicare and Medicaid personnel on such issues as the impact of the new Medicare Modernization Act (MMA) on persons with disabilities. OD undertakes similar activities with constituent disabilityorganizations, t providing up-to-date information about Medicare and Medicaid programs, including, for example,  MMA’s Part D prescription drug provisions.
    • Convened constituent input meetings, enabling CMS to receive input from the disability community on MMA regulations and their potential impact on persons with disabilities, particularly on those with dual eligibility for Medicare and Medicaid.
    • Co-facilitated Medicaid “Open Door” sessions focused on issues for persons with disabilities.


  • HHS Surgeon General’s Call to Action To Improve the Health and Wellness of Persons with Disabilities: The U.S. Surgeon General soon will release a Call to Action to address the access challenges to health and wellness faced by individuals with disabilities of all kinds. Developed by the OD in collaboration with the Surgeon General, it emphasizes the need to overcome impediments that limit access to all health and wellness services by persons with disabilities. They include issues related public awareness, professional knowledge, consumer access to integrated health care and wellness-promotion services. It articulates both an overarching principle and four goals that, together, can surmount those impediments and help the nearly 54 million Americans of all ages who have been born with or have acquired disabilities during their lifetimes to experience full, rewarding, and, above all, healthy lives across the lifespan in their communities.
  • Addressing Caregiver/Workforce Challenges for Persons with Disabilities: Led by the OD, an HHS-wide New Freedom Initiative Workgroup Caregiver Subcommittee is identifying strengths, gaps, and interagency opportunities around HHS programs focused on caregiving. The goal is to enhance the human capacity to promote community living for people with disabilities. Data compiled and reviewed by all participating HHS agencies are helping to guide collaborative activities and to leverage caregiver-related funds and other resources effectively and efficiently.
  • Serving Young Children with Hearing Loss and their Families:  Because early intervention for young children who are deaf or hard of hearing can benefit their future physical and emotional growth and health, in October 2004, the OD established the first HHS Working Group on Effective Interventions for Infants and Young Children with Hearing Loss. The Working Group is identifying and finding ways to bridge service gaps for these very young children and their families, helping to minimize immediate and long-term issues that confront these young children and their families. Three separate reports, are being developed across the topics of comprehensive health services, new research directions, and comprehensive educational services. Final versions will be made available on line through the OD web site,

Spanning Needs of Special Populations

  • HHS Young Adult Program:  Consistent with its charge to advance the New Freedom Initiative, the OD is convening Federal-State Policy Academies to help states, tribal, and local communities better develop and implement action plans to address the health, human services, employment, education, housing, and transportation needs of young adults (ages 14 to 30 years) with disabilities. This Program will promote more effective state and community use of limited resources to develop a solid infrastructure, and coordinated, integrated services systems for youth and young adults with disabilities who run considerable risk of poor health, homelessness, criminalization and inappropriate institutionalization. Ongoing technical assistance will be available to help implement action plans developed at and following the Policy Academies to promote smooth transitions from youth to adulthood for persons with disabilities, with a focus on the transition from education to employment that includes appropriate attention to infrastructure needs in health care, housing and transportation.
  • Special Health Challenges:   The OD is gathering information to address the unique health challenges of persons of color (American Indian/Alaska Native, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian American/Pacific Islander) with disabilities. Many individuals within these racial and ethnic populations have disproportionately higher rates of disability and less access to needed community-based care and services.
  • Children and Youth with Co-Occurring Developmental Disabilities and Emotional and/or Substance Abuse Disorders: In an effort spanning the Department and other Departments with a stake in the New Freedom Initiative, the OD has begun to address the significant problem of youth experiencing both developmental disabilities and emotional and/or substance abuse disorders. A comprehensive work plan is being implemented, built from a strategic federal-state meeting to consider how barriers that prevent states from attending effectively to the service needs of this target population group can be addressed, how funding streams can be better coordinated, and how a stovepipe approach to care and services can be eliminated.
  • Addressing the Health Needs of Women with Disabilities: In collaboration with the HHS Office on Women’s Health, the OD cosponsored the August 2004 conference Women of Color: Taking Action for a Healthier Life: Progress, Partnerships and Possibilities, designed to underscore the need to address the unique needs of women with disabilities and to emphasize greater understanding of disparities and cultural differences.  In December 2004, the OD-convened summit, Breaking Down Barriers to Health care for Women with Disabilities, highlighted the many challenges to accessible health care facing women with and explored ways in which health professionals and facilities can overcome these barriers to provide the best possible care. A white paper identifying recommended actions in addressing the health care challenges faced by women with disabilities will be available on the OD website.
  • Addressing Disability Issues Worldwide: The OD is responsible for the ongoing HHS Initiative to plan and convene Biennial International Congresses on Children with Special Needs. With representatives from over 50 countries, the 2004 Congress, convened in Stavanger, Norway, addressed the role of families and communities in building cross-disciplinary systems of support that integrate health, education, and social needs of children and young adults. Of particular importance were issues related to human rights of people with disabilities, inclusive programs within everyday communities, the critical roles families play in partnership with professionals and politicians, and sustaining progress over time.

For more information about the Office on Disability, its programs and initiatives,
be sure to visit the OD website at:

May  2005