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Bush signs executive order to help Americans with disabilities

By CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to put the spotlight on what his administration is doing to help Americans with disabilities, President Bush announced Tuesday the implementation of new regulations that direct federal agencies to make technology available to assist roughly 120,000 disabled federal workers.

The new rules, which take effect June 21, require federal agencies to purchase assistive electronic and information technology, such as that which can help blind and deaf workers operate computers at their desks.

The regulations were actually required under a 1998 law passed by Congress, sponsored by Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont.

Jeffords joined Bush for the announcement at the Pentagon, where the president toured a center that evaluates and demonstrates assistive technology for disabled workers at the Defense Department and other federal agencies.

"The technologies on display here have helped more than 20,000 Defense Department employees enjoy greater access to communications and computing equipment," the president said. "And they will help countless individuals in the public and private sectors become fully integrated into the workplace. I'm committed to bringing that technology to users as quickly as possible."

Bush also announced he signed an executive order Monday directing federal agencies to make sure states are providing "community-based" programs for Americans with disabilities as opposed to placing them in institutions.

The president's order calls on federal agencies to ensure full compliance with a 1999 Supreme Court decision which found that states, whenever possible, should place individuals with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions. The president's order expands the high court ruling to cover all Americans with disabilities.

Bush also announced the Housing Department is in the process of issuing new regulations for another initiative, created by Congress, allowing people with disabilities to use Section 8 housing assistance to cover a down payment and closing costs for a new home, as well as rent payments.

Earlier this year, Bush announced what the White House called a "New Freedom" initiative, an $8.6 billion plan to help disabled Americans get access to innovative technologies that could help them at work, at school or in their communities.

The president often points to the work of his father, who signed landmark legislation into law, and portrays his administration as building on that progress.

"My fellow Americans, when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed in 1990, our nation made a promise. We will no longer underestimate the abilities of Americans with disabilities," said the president. "We will treat Americans with disabilities as people to be respected rather than problems to be confronted."

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