In the 1980's, sixty-four disability organizations formed a coalition known as INVEST (INsure Virginians Equal Status Today) to accomplish passage of the Virginians with Disabilities Act (VDA). This landmark civil rights legislation declared the state's commitment to support and encourage persons with disabilities to participate fully in the social and economic life of the Commonwealth. It preceded the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by five years, and is considered by many to be the model for the federal legislation that created the ADA.
Signed in 1985 by former Gov. Charles S. Robb, the law was a landmark in the protection against discrimination in employment, housing, education, voting transportation and access to public accommodations.
Today, the Virginians With Disabilities Act protects nearly one million state residents.
The act declared "it is the policy of this Commonwealth to encourage and enable persons with disabilities to participate fully and equally in the social and economic life of the Commonwealth and to engage in remunerative employment". The Act protected Virginians with disabilities from discrimination under any state program or activity, by employers in hiring and promotion, by educational institutions receiving state funds, in the use of public places and in places of public accommodation, in housing, and in the exercise of the right to vote.
The act directed the Governor, specific agencies (see below), and such other agencies as the Governor deems appropriate, to provide, in a comprehensive and coordinated manner which makes the best use of available resources, those services necessary to assure equal opportunity to persons with disabilities in the Commonwealth.
The agencies specifically covered in the Act were:
· Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy
· Department for the Aging
· Department for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing
· Department of Education
· Department of Health
· Department of Housing and Community Development
· Department of Mental Health
· Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services
(NOTE: The two departments were merged into the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services, which has since been renamed the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).
· Board for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities
· Department of Rehabilitative Services
· Department of Social Services
· Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired
These agencies were required to issue an annual update of budgetary commitment to serving Virginians with disabilities.
For additional information, see The Virginians with Disabilities Act Legislation at Section 51.5-40 et. seq. of the Code of Virginia. The Code of Virginia is available online through the General Assembly's Legislative Information System website at:
Virginia State Senate Joint Resolution No. 372, Offered January 12, 2005, Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Virginians with Disabilities Act, available at:
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