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James L.
Democrat RI 2

About Rep. James
  • Ada’s 25Th Anniversary

    by Representative James R. Langevin

    Posted on 2015-07-29

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    LANGEVIN. Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, it is my pleasure to yield to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the distinguished minority whip.

    Mr. HOYER. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

    First, let me mention the extraordinary respect I have for the gentleman from Rhode Island (Mr. Langevin).

    I had the honor of sponsoring the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1989 and 1990. We passed it in 1990, and it was signed by then- President George H.W. Bush. It was called the Americans with Disabilities Act, Mr. Speaker, but in many ways it should have been called the Americans with Abilities Act. It should have been called that because its intent was to focus on what people could do, what people would do, what people wanted to do.

    Mr. Langevin is a perfect example of an extraordinary person with great ability who has a wheelchair. He has a wheelchair because he has a mobility impairment that others of us don't have. But as we have seen in serving with our colleague Jim Langevin from Rhode Island, he is extraordinarily able and he represents his constituency with great energy, with great intellect, and with great integrity. So I am pleased to join him in this Special Order.

    We had introduced a resolution, but it is not the practice of the House to bring commemorative resolutions to the floor. So we do this Special Order in addition to what we would have hoped would have been the passage of a resolution, but I understand that is the practice.

    The Senate did in fact pass a resolution, sponsored by Orrin Hatch, Patricia Murray from Washington State, and Lamar Alexander, commemorating 25 years of progress on the inclusion of those with a challenge that others might not have in our society, all that our society offers and the opportunities that it offers.

    Mr. Speaker, I have spoken on numerous occasions over this last week commemorating the ADA, and I have mentioned a number of names. I would like to do that on the floor of this House, because they were people who were absolutely critical. It is not a comprehensive list. It is, however, a list of people with whom I worked very closely for well over a year on the passage of the ADA.

    First, I would like to mention President George H.W. Bush. This issue was not a partisan issue. President Bush was a Republican; I was a Democrat--and still am. I worked with an extraordinary Republican Member of the House. His name was Steve Bartlett. He was from Texas. He left the House and became mayor of Dallas. He is now still in Washington, working, and we are partners. Every time something happens with respect to the ADA, Steve Bartlett and I work together on it.

    Dave Capozzi and Tony Coelho. Tony Coelho, a Member of this body, was a person perceived with the disease of epilepsy, but he is one of the most able people that any of us know. Tony Coelho, along with Lowell Weicker, were the original two sponsors of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    Justin Dart. In 1983, Justin Dart visited every State in the Union in his wheelchair, calling attention to State legislatures, Governors, and others of the importance of ensuring the accessibility of places of opportunity for those with disabilities. Yoshiko Dart, his wife, was with him every step of the way and was with us as we worked for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    And then we have an extraordinary legislator--one of the best legislators that I have served with, Mr. Speaker--Bob Dole, a Republican from Kansas, majority and minority leader of the United States Senate. Mr. Speaker, when he came to the Senate of the United States, his first speech was about including those with disabilities. He observed that he was an involuntary member of those with disabilities as a result of his extraordinary war wounds in Italy in World War II.

    We have Chai Feldblum, who is now on the EEOC and a professor at Georgetown Law School. She was counsel to myself and Steve Bartlett as we considered the complex issues and tried to make sure that ADA could be implemented by all in a way that was affordable and reasonable for them.

    We then have Lex Frieden, who is the executive director of the National Council on Disabilities, who worked so closely with us. Also, Boyden Gray, counsel to George Bush, who was a critical ally in this effort.

    Then we have a giant in this effort, Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, who, after Lowell Weicker left, was the principal sponsor of the ADA and fought hard and effectively on its behalf.

    Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy and Senator Hatch were partners in so many different things, but on this they were aligned and made this bipartisan effort a very successful one.

    Also, Arlene Mayerson; Paul Marchand; former Congressman and now Senator Ed Markey; Senator John McCain; Congressman Norman Mineta; Ralph Neas; Katie Neas; Carolyn Osolinik; Becky Ogle; Lee Page; Liz Savage; Bobby Silverstein. Like Melissa Schulman who was my chief staffer as we considered the Americans with Disabilities Act, Bobby Silverstein was Tom Harkin's chief staffer.

    Jim Sensenbrenner, our colleague today. Congressman Sensenbrenner was so critical, along with his wife, Cheryl Sensenbrenner, who, herself, suffered from a disability and showed such courage in encouraging all of us to support the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    I mentioned Lowell Weicker. Lowell Weicker was a Senator from Connecticut and then Governor of Connecticut; Bob Williams, who was an extraordinary individual who worked so hard; John Wodatch; and last, but certainly not least, Patricia Wright.

    There were literally, Mr. Speaker, thousands of others, many of whom will not be known but who came here to the Congress of the United States, wrote their Members, called them up, and came to town meetings and forums on behalf of those with disabilities.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act is now used as a sample and has been adopted in some 50 countries throughout the world, perhaps more. There is a disabilities rights convention, which is pending. Only three countries in the world have not signed on to that convention. Unfortunately, we are one. I would hope that the Senate would do that in this Congress. Senator Bob Dole has been an extraordinary proponent of that convention.

    So, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join my friend, James Langevin, who has been a beneficiary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the reasonable accommodations that we ask to be [[Page H5656]] effected so that Jim Langevin could get through the door, could get on the elevator, could get into this Chamber. And, Mr. Speaker, there is a lift on the rostrum on which you now sit so that James Langevin would be able to preside, if that were in order. In fact, he has been up there and has presided. That is called a reasonable accommodation. And because of those reasonable accommodations, this Congress, his State, and our country have been advantaged.

    Mr. Speaker, I think when we end our careers, most of us who were involved in the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act will look back on the adoption of it overwhelmingly by this Congress in a bipartisan fashion and the signing of that act by President George Bush as one of our most important contributions and achievements during our service in the Congress of the United States.

    I thank Mr. Langevin for his extraordinary example for all those in our country to look at the abilities, not the disabilities.

    Mr. LANGEVIN. I thank the gentleman. Let me express my profound gratitude to the distinguished gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the distinguished minority whip, for his kind words, Mr. Speaker, but most especially because of his extraordinary commitment and the work that he put in, along with countless others, to actually pass the Americans with Disabilities Act and seeing it signed into law.

    As the gentleman from Maryland stated, Mr. Speaker, that law has had a profound impact on my life and on countless other lives--and will for generations to come. I thank the gentleman for his extraordinary work.

    Let me also thank the extraordinary list of individuals that the distinguished gentleman from Maryland just read off, some of whom I have had the absolute distinct honor and privilege to meet and to thank personally, and many of whom I will never have the privilege of actually knowing or meeting personally because many have also passed on.

    {time} 1830 They made an extraordinary difference in the lives of millions of people, as I said, both now and in future generations to come; and it is with profound gratitude that I thank them for their work.

    Mr. Speaker, this past Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a tremendous milestone for one of the most significant civil rights laws of the 20th century.

    As a Member of Congress, as co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and someone who has lived with the challenges of a disability, both before and after the ADA's enactment in 1990, I have experienced firsthand the profound changes that this law has affected within our society.

    When I was paralyzed at the age of 16, my life changed forever. As I lay in my hospital bed, I wondered what life could possibly have in store for me next, but I drew strength and inspiration from other people with disabilities who had accomplished both great things and small. They taught me that there was life after a disability.

    I was also incredibly fortunate to have the support of my family and my community, whose generosity and concern ultimately made me want to give back to Rhode Island through a career in public service, but accessibility was not yet considered a civil right at that time, and I know many people with disabilities were not as fortunate as I was.

    So many passionate advocates and champions like Mr. Hoyer fought for the rights and protections enshrined in this law. For all of us, the ADA has been a profoundly life-altering act that has provided new opportunities and fundamentally changed the way society views and treats people with disabilities.

    The ADA has broken down physical and psychological barriers. It has opened up opportunities to education, employment, and technology. It has made public transportation more accommodating, improved voting accessibility, and expanded inclusion and justice for millions.

    At its core, this groundbreaking legislation codified the correct collective ideal that no one should suffer discrimination because of a disability.

    Mr. Speaker, it was with this same conviction that I was pleased to support the passage of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008, after a number of court decisions diluted the definition of what constituted a disability.

    When that law was signed into effect, I had the privilege of being with Mr. Hoyer and several of the other champions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the original enactment, original authors of the ADA, including Senator Harkin and Cheryl Sensenbrenner.

    I also had the privilege of meeting President George H.W. Bush and be with his son, President George W. Bush, as President George W. Bush signed that bill into law. It was such an honor for me to be able to personally thank President George H.W. Bush personally for his support and leadership in seeing the original ADA signed into law.

    Now, when the ADA Amendments Act was passed, these rulings, effectively, the Court rulings that took place necessitating this act effectively limited the ADA's coverage and excluded people with disabling conditions that were not readily visible or apparent, like epilepsy, MS, and various developmental disabilities.

    The ADA Amendments Act reaffirmed the protections of the ADA and upheld the ideals of equality and opportunity on which this country was founded. As a result of these efforts, I am proud that future generations will live in a world that is more inclusive, more accessible, and increasingly recognizes the unique talents and abilities of individuals with disabilities.

    As we celebrate our accomplishments, so must we recognize that our work is not finished. Equal employment opportunities and fully integrated community living have not yet been entirely realized.

    In fact, recent data shows that 31 percent of disabled individuals live below the poverty line, and less than 34 percent are fully employed.

    Mr. Speaker, as a nation, we can do better, and we must. It is more important than ever that we educate businesses and connect them with proper resources to create more employment opportunities. Many people with disabilities have both the desire and the capability to work, as well as exceptional talents to offer.

    Mr. Speaker, let us not see those talents go to waste. I have often said, Mr. Speaker, that people with disabilities are still one of this Nation's greatest untapped resources, and we need to tap into that talent to see our Nation grow even further.

    Mr. Speaker, their divergent backgrounds, unique experiences and wide-ranging talents promote a culture of diversity that doesn't just play a role in the workplace, but also influences the very nature of our society. With proper awareness, accommodation, and investment, our economy and society can reap countless rewards.

    We must also ensure that transportation is available and accessible to everyone so that they can get to their jobs, the doctor, or the grocery store.

    I have often said that it doesn't do anyone any good if they can actually apply for a job and get the job, but can't get to the job, so that needs to improve.

    To help us realize this goal, I have introduced the Transit Accessibility Innovation Act, legislation that would create a competitive grant program to encourage transit systems to make public transportation more accessible and user friendly.

    Mr. Speaker, accessible public transportation is essential in order for people with disabilities to live independently and with full inclusion in their communities. By improving these services, we can improve the quality of life for countless individuals and families.

    Mr. Speaker, to further promote independence, we must also ensure that family caregivers of people with disabilities have greater access to critical services like respite care. Respite care provides temporary relief to family members engaged in the full-time task of caring for their aging or disabled loved ones with special needs.

    Mr. Speaker, these caregivers, I have often said, are unsung heroes. These caregivers devote so much of their time, energy, and love to their families, but in many cases, they can be often unprepared for these new responsibilities, and the challenges that they [[Page H5657]] face can be daunting, from employment difficulties, to financial challenges, to depression and family stress.

    Very often, though, with just a little bit of assistance, they can continue to be extraordinary caregivers and fulfill all of the other challenges and responsibilities that a family requires.

    That is why I have introduced and I have championed the Lifespan Respite Care Act, Mr. Speaker, with my friend and former Republican colleague, Mike Ferguson from New Jersey.

    Mr. Speaker, that law, it passed into law in 2006 and has already provided grants to 32 States and the District of Columbia to help set up respite care networks for families in need.

    Mr. Speaker, I continue to push for that program's reauthorization, and I included it in the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act that I introduced in April to strengthen the support services for family caregivers of injured and disabled veterans. I think this is an important thing that we can do for our veterans.

    We have come far, Mr. Speaker, since the passage of the ADA, but we still have much more work ahead. Disabilities don't discriminate on the basis of party affiliation, income level, or gender; instead, they can happen to anyone at any time. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that they also have the unique ability to unite us in common purpose.

    As we celebrate the silver anniversary of the ADA together, we must use this as a call to action and to reaffirm our commitment to equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self- sufficiency for people with disabilities everywhere.

    Let me close, Mr. Speaker, by thanking the many champions and the advocates and many unsung heroes who made the ADA possible and saw it through the legislative process and put it on the desk of President George H.W. Bush, who signed it into law and changed the lives of people with disabilities everywhere forever.

    Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.


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