THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
What a way to begin -- I just think we ought to give Beth another round of applause for that fabulous rendition of our National Anthem. (Applause) Some of you may know that Beth just competed in the Miss Arkansas contest, and was one of the top 10 finalists. And she's going back next year, and I'm so proud she could be here.
Thank you, and welcome to this celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Etched in the walls of this memorial is our nation's promise to scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens. And you notice that this quote from President Franklin Roosevelt doesn't say "all men," or "all white people," or "all people without disabilities." It says "all citizens." (Applause.)
And, today, we continue the civil rights journey led by those who gathered in Seneca Falls to open the doors at Little Rock Central High School, who marched through Selma, who fought tirelessly to enact the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and, yes, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. (Applause.)
With the ADA, we as a nation said we cannot have civil rights without disability rights, and we promised to replace fear and ignorance and discrimination based on disability with opportunity based on ability. Now, none of this would have been possible without the people gathered here today. It would not have been possible without strong, bipartisan leadership from the Congress and the White House. And we'll be hearing in a few minutes from Senator Harkin and Senator Hatch, and I want to thank them and all the other members who have shown that guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it's an American issue. (Applause.)
We are so fortunate to be joined by present and former members of Congress, and I'd like to recognize them, including Senators Kennedy and Jeffords. (Applause.) And Senator Specter and former Senator Metzenbaum. (Applause.) Congressmen Weicker and Hoyer, and Coehlo and Bartlett -- (applause) -- and Levin and McNulty and Morella. (Applause.) And I'd like to ask the present and former members of Congress, the House and the Senate, who made this day possible to please stand so we can show our appreciation. (Applause.)
Now, as all of you know, the ADA was a product of the courage and commitment of the disability rights community and its leaders. Some have since passed away in the last 10 years; others are part of celebrations across the country. But many of you have come here today, and we are so delighted to see you.
We're going to hear from someone in just a few minutes who has really been the heart and soul of this movement. Now, when we think of Justin Dart, we think of his classic cowboy hat and cowboy boots, his contagious grin, his eloquence and his love of all humanity. But, mostly, we think of his lifelong commitment to ensuring the rights and dignity of every single American. And, Justin, we thank and honor you today once again for your leadership. (Applause.)
In addition to Beth Gray, who began this program on such a beautiful note, I want to welcome the young people up here who remind us of how far we've come and why we must recommit ourselves today to the work that is still undone. I remember very well when I first went to work for the Children's Defense Fund in the very early 1970s, and I went door to door as part of a survey to try to find out why so many children were not in school -- this was 1973. And I remember going into a small apartment and seeing a child with a very bright and eager look on her face, but because she was in a wheelchair, she had never been in school.
And house by house, apartment by apartment, I met so many children like her who were kept out of school because they couldn't hear, because they couldn't see, because they had some medical problem that needed to be tended to during the day, who were kept out of school and kept away from an education solely because of a disability.
I know that Judy Heumann, the President's extraordinary Assistant Secretary for Education -- (applause) -- could not attend public school until the 4th grade; and I can only imagine how proud she is 25 years after the IDEA was enacted to see how it and the ADA have helped young people like those on the stage and in the audience today live and learn like all children should be able to.
And I want to salute Judy and other members of the President's administration and Cabinet, Secretary Herman and Secretary Mineta, Director LaChance, Secretary Herschel, Secretary Ramirez, Commissioner Apfel, Chairwoman Castro and Secretary McCabe. I'm so grateful for all of you being part of this day today.
I know that there are many stories that we could tell to commemorate this anniversary. I think of Meira Kirschbaum, who plays in an integrated sports program with sign language; Aaron Kaufman, who, in getting ready for his bar mitzvah, managed to educate more than a dozen synagogues about the dignity of accessibility. At age 13, he even wants to be in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Alisa Rodriguez, who is the lead in a new PSA campaign, wants to be the first woman President. So we have a lot of ambitious and energetic, motivated young people. (Applause.)
But as Judy's story and as my memories from 1973 make clear to me, it's not so long ago that young people, growing up with such hope, could not even imagine those kinds of opportunities. They couldn't take for granted watching a movie or going to a concert, or learning in a classroom or eating in a restaurant.
Now, the changes did not happen by accident; it happened because people demanded that we knock down the barriers of laws and attitudes that have held people back for far too long. And it happened because many of us, and particularly this administration over the last eight years, knew that passing the ADA was the beginning, not the end, of our commitment to ensure that all people have the rights they're entitled to. (Applause.)
We can look back and we can say that we're a fairer country because we are vigorously enforcing disability laws so that discrimination in housing, schools and workplaces is punished and stopped. We're a more prosperous country because we're giving people with disabilities the training, opportunities and health care they need to get the jobs they want and keep the jobs they require. We're a smarter country because we reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and put quality education and training within reach of far more young people.
So because of all these changes that so many have fought for, we have a new generation of Americans who want to work, expect to work, are graduating from high school, going to college, preparing to work, and dedicating their skills and abilities at a time when employers need them desperately to improving the quality of their own life and the quality of life in our country. (Applause.)
Today, I'm pleased to announce three new steps that will help create a seamless web of support so that no young person with a disability falls through a crack in our laws, in our attitudes, and in our openness to the talents they bring to all of us.
First, we are more than tripling the amount of money students can earn without losing any of their SSI or Medicaid benefits. (Applause.) This is long overdue, as the reaction from the young people certainly shows us. The increase in the maximum monthly earned income exclusion for students who receive SSI is going from $400 to $1,290, and the yearly exclusion from $1,620 to $5,200, and thereafter, we will have automatic annual increases in the cost of living index. (Applause.)
Young people with disabilities should never have to pay the price for working; and with this change, I hope they will never again have to choose between getting a summer job and keeping their health and disability insurance. Second, we are expanding the mandate of the Presidential Task Force on the Employment of Adults with Disabilities to focus on young people, as well. That means working across the government to launch a public awareness campaign, conduct research and increase access to health care. And it means teaming up with companies, such as Microsoft and Ford, to give young people everywhere the kinds of after-school and summer jobs that not only build confidence, but also their resumes.
And, finally, the Department of Education is going to reach out to schools to help them stop the harassment of students with disabilities
You know, we can change all the laws in the world in all the workplaces, but we'll never fully open the doors in America unless we open our hearts and change our attitudes, as well. Only we can decide if we're going to teach our children to treat each other with respect and not to demean anyone, and to relish the differences between us.
I am very proud of a young man named Mathew Cavedon. He was instrumental in persuading Maryland to create Hadley's Playground, a one-acre space without boundaries, where children can play together free from fear and stereotypes and discrimination. Now, Matthew is only 10, and he was born in the same year as the ADA, and in many ways, the vision that the ADA has and Matthew's are the same.
The ADA torch of leadership that many of you carried through decades, and even through Washington, DC yesterday, is being passed to Matthew's generation. It comes steeped in the rich civil rights tradition, with painful reminders of the sacrifices that have been made by the pioneers who came before. No one has worked harder to keep that torch moving and held high than our next speaker. Ten years ago, Senator Tom Harkin stood in the well of the Senate and said it was his proudest moment in his entire public service. Proud because his leadership, along with Senator Kennedy's, resulted in such a historic victory for people with disabilities, and our fundamental sense of what is right in America.
He was proud also because, like so many other members, he came to the debate with deep personal, as well as professional and public convictions. It was Senator Harkin's brother, Frank, who inspired him in his fight for the ADA, who reminded him of the daily struggles and indignities that people with disabilities still face.
Senator, I was sorry to hear of the loss of your brother. But I can only imagine how proud he was to the end of his life -- and I am sure still is -- to watch you as you continue to champion the rights and dignities of all Americans, especially those too often forgotten.
It is my great honor to introduce Senator Tom Harkin. (Applause.)
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