11:29 a.m. EDT
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mayor Adams, you are an inspiration, and so many people here are. Tammy and others – I look out, and they’re just an inspiration not only to people with disabilities, but also to non-disabled people who feel sorry for themselves and realize, “Wait a minute – wait , what am I complaining about?
You know, the – and I appreciate that Jill welcomes you all. I echo his welcome. And every time she stands up and speaks, I think of – she’s a woman who didn’t want to be involved in public life and speak out. (Laughs.) And I wonder what she is – I vote for her. (Applause.) But…
THE FIRST LADY I’m not running.
THE PRESIDENT: Tammy, it’s great to see you, kid. You’re not just a–you’re not just a great, great senator, but you’re really, really a hero. You are a war hero. (Applause.)
And Steny Hoyer, probably one of the most effective legislators of the last 40 years in the United States Congress, and a good friend. (Applause.)
And, Jim, you — you’re a pioneer in the House. Twenty-two years. Twenty-two years. (Applause.) And if you’re wondering why there are so many secret services, they’re here to keep you from retiring. (Laughs.) Don’t go there. I don’t want you to go. You are the best, my friend. You are the best. You really are.
And I see a few more there. Who is that guy sitting next to you? He is new in the body. (Laughs.) He knows New York, bridges, and all kinds of other things, but he’s also been an incredible supporter of the Disabilities Act. We go back and remember guys like Bob Dole and others – right, mate? – who has done so much.
Listen, I want to thank all of the brave advocates here—and there are a lot of advocates here—who have worked so hard to make our country more accessible and fairer.
Jill and I just wanted to host this celebration for two reasons. First, to celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act that our dear friend Tom Harkin from Iowa helped draft and pass 32 years ago. And I was honored to be a co-sponsor. I take no credit for putting it together; Tom did all the heavy lifting. But then I knew how important it was.
And members of both parties – both parties – lobbied – through two administrations, led by a dear friend of mine and many of us, Republican Leader Bob Dole. And under President George HW Bush, he signed it into law – one of our most important civil rights laws to date.
You know, it’s – it’s hard for younger generations to imagine a world without ADA. I mean, it’s just – it’s just impossible.
I won’t mention his name — I shouldn’t go off script here — I won’t mention his name, but I remember one of the things that really troubled me one day as a young senator. I was only there a month and a half. There was a senator who stood up on the — on the floor of the Senate urging Bob Dole and Teddy Kennedy for a precursor to this legislation, saying, “Why should you confiscate my money to make a cut sidewalk? Why should I pay for this? Etc.
And, you know, it’s – it’s really something that all of you – even those of you who are not here – who are here who are not handicapped, feel in your belly. You know that there is only a minimum of decency and fairness.
And, you know – and remember the days when – none of you are old enough here – but remember the days when if you were disabled the stores turned you down. Employees might refuse to hire you — employers might refuse to hire you.
If you were using a wheelchair, there was no accommodation required to take the bus, as already mentioned, or a train or – to school or work.
America was simply not built for all Americans. But we changed that. And now, for one in four Americans living with a disability in America, we’ve changed the law. You know, it’s the key to equality, opportunity and independence.
Tammy and Jim both said they wouldn’t be where they are today without the ADA. They made speeches about it. It matters.
For our country, the ADA is a testament to the character of our people, of the country. This is proof that we can work together and continue to move closer to fulfilling America’s promise to all Americans – for all Americans. And it’s proof of the power of our example – a US law that is a global model, inspiring 180 other nations to pass similar disability laws.
And, folks, ADA attorney Jim [Justin] Dart, who was often recognized as the “godfather”, who wrote the ADA in 1990 – the AD – – he said – wrote in 1990 on the ADA. He said, “[The] ADA is just the beginning. It’s not a solution… it’s an essential foundation on which solutions will be built.
From day one, my administration has built on the foundations of the ADA.
My Department of Labor protects the rights of workers with disabilities and fights to end unfair below-minimum wages. (Applause.)
This is essential when, today, Americans with disabilities are still three times less likely than others to be employed and often earn less for the same work that is done by others.
We’re also creating new – new jobs by helping state and local governments, employers, and nonprofits tap into federal funds to hire more Americans with disabilities.
Our Infrastructure Act is making the biggest investment ever in accessible public transit – modernizing subways, trains and airports. (Applause.)
It expands access to high-speed Internet — a lifeline for people with disabilities to work, study and stay connected.
And I know that COVID-19 is hitting the disability community particularly hard – the pain, the isolation, the separation, the mental and physical health toll on all people – from the community – the loss of life.
And on this day, we remember those lost lives, and we thank everyone – everyone who is still – we are thinking of everyone, those who are still suffering, those who are still struggling, including those who are living with a long COVID .
That’s why throughout the pandemic, we’ve focused on improving access to healthcare to help us through this darkest time.
The US bailout provided $25 billion to states to expand home and community services under Medicaid – (applause) – so more people can live – people with disabilities can live independently in their homes.
We have delivered vaccines, masks, tests, therapeutics directly to the inhabitants of their neighborhood.
We have mobilized a whole-of-government effort to advance our understanding of long COVID and accelerate progress in prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
And I continue to call on Congress to provide the resources we need to deal with COVID at all levels. We followed with the Cut Inflation Act, one of the most important laws in our history – a law that will reduce the cost of prescription drugs, health care, energy and ensure that bigger companies are starting to pay their fair share of taxes.
We are doing more – (applause) – we are doing more to advance the rights of persons with disabilities at every level, from improving access to the ballot box to promoting equity and inclusion around the world.
All of this is significant progress. But the second reason we wanted to host this reception is to recognize a movement that is not just about disability rights, but about disability pride. (Applause.)
It is about recognizing that a disability is not something broken to be fixed. For millions of Americans, their disability is a source of identity and power.
Disability pride is about the equal right of every American – (applause) – the equal right to be recognized for who they are. It’s about celebrating the progress we’ve made and the future that awaits us.
And one of the reasons I’m so optimistic about our future is because of our young people. This is the most gifted, best educated, most talented and most tolerant generation in our history. And joining us today is one of the brightest lights of the generation.
I’m going to let Jill introduce it.
But God bless you all. And may God protect our troops.
Jilly, the floor is yours. (Applause.)
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you. Born blind, José André Montaño learned to play the piano at just four years old. Now, at 17, he’s played at festivals and concert halls around the world, including the Kennedy Center, where I heard them early on — heard them earlier this year.
I was amazed by his music; It was amazing. And I couldn’t wait to bring him to the White House.
Today, not only is he here with us, but I am also delighted to be joined by his parents, Roberto and Giovanna.
THE PRESIDENT Where are they?
THE FIRST LADY: Now please welcome José André Montaño. (Applause.)
11:38 a.m. EDT