I also want to thank Jan [Bauer] for reminding us that today is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And I am thrilled to see the progress she talked about some of the barriers that she faced when she came here to go to college, and how a lot of those barriers have been broken down and eliminated. What she didn’t say is that in addition to the leadership Tom Harkin showed in getting the ADA passed, Jan was a strong voice in favor of that as well and an incredible witness for what it would mean.
I think that we should acknowledge how the disabilities community has played such an important role in changing things for the better in our country. I remember my first job out of law school was with the Children’s Defense Fund. I didn’t want to go work for a law firm. I wanted to go to work to be an advocate, and I joined the organization started by Marian Wright Edelman, an incredible woman lawyer, African-American, first ever to pass and be acknowledged as passing the Mississippi state bar, and Marian started the Children’s Defense Fund. When I joined, our first project in the summer of 1973 was to go door to door along with others across our country to gather evidence about why so many American children were not in school. We suspected that one of the biggest reasons was that their disabilities were not accommodated in school, and therefore they could not attend school. But we didn’t know that for sure, and we wanted to find out. So I went door-to-door in New Bedford, Massachusetts, saying, “Do you have a school-aged child who’s not in school?” And I heard, yes, you know, our daughter dropped out to take care of the younger kids, or our son dropped out to go to work to help support the family. But I heard mostly that, yes, we have a blind child, a deaf child, a child in a wheelchair, a child with some other kind of disability that is not accepted in school. So we gathered up all of our evidence, and we presented it to the Congress, and that first effort resulted in passing Education for All, and all children with disabilities were given the right to go to school. That was a huge step forward for our country.
And then the effort began with real conviction to try to expand the rights that people with disabilities should have in our society. Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Tony Coelho, and then the bill was finally passed and signed by George H.W. Bush. It was a great success in showing that bipartisanship bringing people together to solve a problem that affected millions of our fellow citizens could actually work.
We’ve come a long way in the last 25 years. We still have work to do. We’re by no means finished. And when I was Secretary of State, President Obama and I wanted to get passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We held an event at the White House. We lined up sponsors, both in the Congress and outside, because it required the Congress the Senate to pass. And then we worked really hard, and the Republicans would not support it in the numbers needed. They wouldn’t even listen to the pleas of their former leader, Senator Robert Dole, who as you know lost the use of an arm when he was in the military in World War II.
So there’s a lot of unfinished business both at home, and around the world. But I personally believe that the progress and the landmark legislation first on education then broadly opening up transportation and buildings and employment, everything that people should be able to pursue that that legislation was one of the real highlights of the civil rights and human rights movements in America.
We have our faults and we have our challenges, but there isn’t any nation that has continually tried to push forward to widen the circle of opportunity the way we have. Despite the continuing problems that we face, we’re going to keep doing that.
So I want to applaud you, Jan, and others who have been at the forefront of this movement. I want to introduce the Todds Dale, Sara and Adam who are here. I’ve turned over my twitter account to Sara to be tweeting about the challenges they face as a family with a young man who’s got some challenges himself because I think we all have to recognize that as much progress as we’ve made, we still have work to do. So I want to thank you for being leaders and advocates on behalf of the community.