Monday, August 23, 2010

Remarks by the President on 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
July 26, 2010

Remarks by the President on 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
South Lawn
6:26 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Good evening, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Well, we have a gorgeous day to celebrate an extraordinary event in the life of this nation. Welcome, all of you, to our White House. And thank you, Robert, for the wonderful introduction. It is a pleasure and honor to be with all of you on the 20th anniversary of one of the most comprehensive civil rights bills in the history of this country -- the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Applause.) I see so many champions of this law here today. I wish I had time to acknowledge each and every one of you. I want to thank all of you. But I also want to thank our Cabinet Secretaries and the members of my administration here today who are working to advance the goals of the ADA so that it is not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law, that's being applied all across this country. (Applause.) I want to thank the members of Congress in attendance who fought to make ADA possible and to keep improving it throughout the years. (Applause.) I want to acknowledge Dick Thornburgh, who worked hard to make this happen as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush. (Applause.) And by the way, I had a chance to speak to President Bush before I came out here, and he sends heartfelt regards to all of you. And it’s -- he’s extraordinarily proud of the law that was passed. He was very humble about his own role, but I think it’s worth acknowledging the great work that he did. (Applause.) We also remember those we’ve lost who helped make this law possible -- like our old friend, Ted Kennedy. (Applause.) And I see Patrick here. And Justin Dart, Jr., a man folks call the father of the ADA -- whose wife Yoshiko, is here. (Applause.) Yoshiko, so nice to see you. (Applause.) I also notice that Elizabeth Dole is here, and I had a chance to speak to Bob Dole, as well, and thank him for the extraordinary role that he played in advancing this legislation. (Applause.) Let me also say that Congressman Jim Langevin wanted to be here today, but he’s currently presiding over the House chamber -- the first time in our history somebody using a wheelchair has done so. (Applause.) Today, as we commemorate what the ADA accomplished, we celebrate who the ADA was all about. It was about the young girl in Washington State who just wanted to see a movie at her hometown theater, but was turned away because she had cerebral palsy; or the young man in Indiana who showed up at a worksite, able to do the work, excited for the opportunity, but was turned away and called a cripple because of a minor disability he had already trained himself to work with; or the student in California who was eager and able to attend the college of his dreams, and refused to let the iron grip of polio keep him from the classroom -- each of whom became integral to this cause. And it was about all of you. You understand these stories because you or someone you loved lived them. And that sparked a movement. It began when Americans no longer saw their own disabilities as a barrier to their success, and set out to tear down the physical and social barriers that were. It grew when you realized you weren’t alone. It became a massive wave of bottom-up change that swept across the country as you refused to accept the world as it was. And when you were told, no, don’t try, you can’the -- you responded with that age-old American creed: Yes, we can. (Applause.) AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.) THE PRESIDENT: Yes, we can! Sit-ins in San Francisco. Demonstrations in Denver. Protests in Washington, D.C., at Gallaudet, and before Congress. People marched, and organized, and testified. And laws changed, and minds changed, and progress was won. (Applause.) Now, that’s not to say it was easy. You didn’t always have folks in Washington to fight on your behalf. And when you did, they weren’t as powerful, as well-connected, as well-funded as the lobbyists who lined up to kill any attempt at change. And at first, you might have thought, what does anyone in Washington know or care about my battle? But what you knew from your own experience is that disability touches us all. If one in six Americans has a disability, then odds are the rest of us love somebody with a disability. I was telling a story to a group that was in the Oval Office before I came out here about Michelle’s father who had MS. By the time I met him, he had to use two canes just to walk. He was stricken with MS when he was 30 years old, but he never missed a day of work; had to wake up an hour early to get dressed -- AUDIENCE MEMBER: So what. THE PRESIDENT: -- to get to the job, but that was his attitude -- so what. He could do it. Didn't miss a dance recital. Did not miss a ball game of his son. Everybody has got a story like that somewhere in their family.

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