Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin on the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
For twenty years the ADA has allowed people with disabilities to participate more fully in our society; and allowed the entire nation to benefit from their participation – in our businesses, schools, places of worship, social activities…in all aspects of our lives.
Since my early days in public service, on the Dane County Board and then in the State Assembly, I’ve been inspired by, worked alongside, and advocated for people with disabilities and for efforts to remove barriers and end discriminatory practices based on ability.
I recall one of those “light bulb” moments back in 1998 when I was first running for Congress – a moment that brought home to me in a very personal way both the plight and the promise of people living with disabilities.
I was blessed to have literally thousands of volunteers helping in that campaign, one of whom was Charlie Day, a man with a significant disability.
I walked into my headquarters early one morning, and there was Charlie…working incredibly hard at the task he’d been assigned.
I left for a variety of appointments and, when I came back in the afternoon, Charlie was still there working diligently.
I left the office again for several hours and, when I came back in the evening, Charlie, was still there, ever cheerful after so many hours hard at work.
At the end of this very long day, I walked up to Charlie and said, “Thank you so much for all you’re doing to help me.”
And Charlie corrected me very quickly. He said, “I’m not doing this to help you. I’m doing this to help myself.’”
You see, Charlie wanted badly to get a job and earn a paycheck, but, by doing so, he risked losing access to some of the social services he needed.
I’ve never forgotten Charlie, nor those he represents and it was a proud moment when I helped pass federal legislation to improve work incentives for Americans with disabilities to help them achieve their dreams.
I’m proud of my successful advocacy to fund services for those victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who have disabilities.
And I’m especially proud to have authored legislation named for the late Christopher and Dana Reeve that was signed into law last year. It authorizes funding for research in paralysis and for a comprehensive resource center that will help improve the quality of life for those living with paralysis and mobility impairments.
I could not have achieved any of these legislative accomplishments without the support and assistance of ADA Wisconsin Partnership, the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, the Wisconsin Board for People with Development Disabilities, Access to Independence, and the numerous Wisconsin organizations that have been instrumental in promoting full implementation of the ADA across our state.
We could not have made so much progress without your hard work.
Tomorrow, we mark a new milestone when my friend and colleague, Representative Jim Langevin becomes the first person in a wheelchair to sit at the Speaker’s podium and preside over the U.S. House of Representatives. I can tell you from personal experience what a tremendous honor and responsibility this is.
And I can also tell you from personal experience that when people who, themselves, have felt disenfranchised, turn on C-SPAN and see a person who looks like them holding the gavel, we will be opening doors for even greater access and sending a strong message that people with disabilities have important roles to play in our society.
So let us recognize the twentieth anniversary of the ADA and celebrate the good work happening in Wisconsin and across the country to remove barriers and improve lives. But let us also use this celebration to renew our focus on the work that lies ahead.
Over the past twenty years, access to public buildings and transportation has significantly increased. The number of employed people with disabilities who are denied a promotion, given less responsibility than co-workers, or denied certain benefits because of their disability has decreased.
But, still, not everyone who wants a job is able to find one; not all who want to live in a community of their choosing are allowed to; not everyone who seeks to live up to his or her full potential is encouraged to.
As we mark this significant anniversary, our work on behalf of people with disabilities continues with renewed dedication. I’m honored to be your advocate and your partner as we look ahead to the next twenty years…and beyond. Thank you.