11:29 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Mayor Adams, you’re an inspiration, and so many people here are. Tammy and others — I look out, and they’re simply an inspiration to people not only with disabilities, but people who don’t have disabilities who find themselves feeling sorry for themselves and realize, “Wait a minute — wait, what am I complaining about?”
You know, the — and I enjoy Jill welcoming all of you. I echo her welcome. And every time she stands up and speaks, I think about — this is a woman who didn’t want to be involved in public life and speaking. (Laughter.) And I wonder what in the hell is she — I’m voting for her. (Applause.) But —
THE FIRST LADY: I’m not running.
THE PRESIDENT: Tammy, it’s great to see you, kiddo. You’re not only a — you’re not only a great, great senator, but you’re really, genuinely a hero. You’re a war hero. (Applause.)
And Steny Hoyer, probably one of the most effective legislators in 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 Service around, they’re here to prevent you from retiring. (Laughter.) Don’t go. I don’t want you go. You’re the best, pal. You’re the best. You really are.
And I see a couple others out there. Who’s that guy sitting next to you? He’s new to the body. (Laughter.) He knows about New York and bridges and all kinds of other things, but has also been an incredible supporter of the Disabilities Act. We go back and remember guys like Bob Dole and others — don’t we, pal? — who did so much.
Look, I want to thank all of the courageous advocates that are here — and there are a lot of advocates here — who’ve worked so hard to make our country more accessible and more just.
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 of Iowa helped write 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 I knew then how important it was.
And members of both parties — both parties — pressed through — through two administrations, led by a dear friend of mine and many of us, the Republican Leader Bob Dole. And under President George H.W. Bush, signed it into law — one of our most important civil rights laws ever.
You know, it’s — it’s hard for younger generations to imagine a world without the ADA. I mean, it just — it’s just impossible.
I’ll not mention his name to — I shouldn’t go off-script here — I’ll not mention his name, but I remember one of the things that got in real trouble one day as a young senator. I’d only been there a month and a half. There was a senator standing up on the — on the floor of the Senate excoriating Bob Dole and Teddy Kennedy for a precursor for this legislation, saying, “Why should you confiscate my money to put in a curb cut? Why should I have to pay for it?” Et cetera.
And, you know, it’s — it really is something that you all — even those of you who are not here — who are here that are not disabled, you feel in your gut. You know there’s just some basic decency and fairness.
And, you know — and remember the days when — none of you are old enough in here — but remember the days when if you were disabled, stores would turn you away. Employees could refuse to hire you — employers could refuse to hire you.
If you used a wheelchair, there was no required accommodation to take the bus, as mentioned already, or a train or — to school or to work.
America simply wasn’t built for all Americans. But we changed that. And now, for one in four Americans living with a disability in America, we changed the law. You know, it’s the key to equality, opportunity, and independence.
Tammy and Jim have both said that they wouldn’t be where they are today without the ADA. They’ve made speeches about that. It matters.
For our country, the ADA is a testament to the character of our people, to the country. It’s proof we can work together and keep moving closer to realizing the promise of America for all Americans — for all Americans. And it’s proof of the power of our example — an American law that is a global model, inspiring 180 other nations to pass similar disability laws.
And, folks, the ADA advocate
Jim [Justin] Dart, who was often recognized as the “godfather,” who wrote the ADA in 1990 — the AD- — he said — wrote in 1990 about the ADA. He said, “[The] ADA is only the beginning. It’s not a solution…it’s an essential foundation on which solutions will be constructed.”
From day one, my administration has been building on the ADA’s foundation.
My Labor Department is protecting the rights of workers with disabilities and fighting to end unjust sub-minimum wages. (Applause.)
That’s critical when, today, disabled Americans are still three times less likely than others to be employed and often earn less for the same work that’s being done by others.
We’re also creating a new — new jobs by helping state and local governments, employers, and nonprofits tap federal funds to hire more disabled Americans.
Our Infrastructure Law makes the biggest investment ever in accessible transit — updating subways, trains, and airports. (Applause.)
It expands access to high-speed Internet — a lifeline for people with disabilities to work, to study, to stay connected.
And I know COVID-19 is hitting the disabilities community especially hard — the pain, the isolation, the separation, the toll on the mental and physical health of all peo- — of the community — the loss of life.
And on this day, we remember those lives lost, and we thank everyone — everyone who is still — we think of them all, those that are still hurting, those that are still struggling, including those living with long COVID.
That’s why throughout the pandemic, we’ve focused on increasing access to healthcare to get us through this darkest of times.
The American Rescue Plan provided $25 billion to states to expand home- and community-based services under Medicaid — (applause) — so more people can live — who have disabilities can live independently at their home.
We’ve delivered vaccines, masks, tests, therapeutics directly to people in their neighborhoods.
We’ve 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 across the board. We followed up with the Inflation Reduction Act, one of the most significant laws in our history — one that will lower the cost of prescription drugs, healthcare, energy, and to make sure the biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share in taxes.
There’s more we’re doing — (applause) — there’s more we’re doing to advance disability rights across the board, from increasing access to the ballot box to promoting equity and inclusion around the world.
All this is important progress. But the second reason we wanted to host this reception is to acknowledge a movement that’s not just about disability rights but also about disability pride. (Applause.)
It’s about recognizing a disability isn’t something broken to be fixed. For millions of Americans, their disability is a source of identity and power.
Disability pride is about every American’s equal right — (applause) — equal right to be recognized for who they are. It’s about celebrating the progress we’ve made and the future ahead.
And one of the reasons I’m so optimistic about our future is because of our young people. They’re the most gifted, best-educated, talented, and accepting generation in our history. And joining us today is one of the generation’s brightest lights.
I’m going to turn it back to Jill to introduce him.
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 piano at just four years old. Today, at 17, he’s played festivals and concert halls across the world, including at the Kennedy Center, where I heard them early — heard him earlier this year.
I was stunned by his music; it was incredible. And I couldn’t wait to bring him to the White House.
Today, not only is he here with us — I’m excited to be joined by his parents as well, Roberto and Giovanna.
THE PRESIDENT: Where are they?
THE FIRST LADY: Now, please welcome, José André Montaño. (Applause.)
11:38 A.M. EDT