Washington, Dec. 12 – Since leaving government, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore was named to the Board of Directors of the Alexandria, Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which recognizes businesses that hire people with disabilities. The presidential hopeful talked about this initiative as well as how he has helped people with disabilities achieve the American Dream in an exclusive interview with a coalition of disability groups including RespectAbility, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.
“I want to see more and more and more jobs,” Gilmore said. “And when we do, I want to make sure that people who need the opportunity – disabled people – have a really good opportunity to participate and to use all of their gifts and talents to the fullest measure.”
Read the full transcript of Gov. Jim Gilmore’s interview with The RespectAbility Report:
The RespectAbility Report: Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Thank you Randy.
The RespectAbility Report: What will you do to expand job opportunities for people with disabilities?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Well I always have. As the Governor of Virginia, we worked very hard to try to build those opportunities for people. I know that, I’ll just give you an example. This isn’t so much a job, but when we rebuilt the Governor’s Mansion in Virginia, it had absolutely no disabled person accessibility of any kind. No bathroom facilities, no ability to get in and out of the building. It was very bad. So we rebuilt it in a way that actually created its own elevator and an opportunity to have a distinguished place to go into, and a way to enter with great deal of dignity. So I offer that to you just as an explanation of my approach.
Now my signature issue is the growth of the economy. I want to see more and more and more jobs. And when we do, I want to make sure that people who need the opportunity – disabled people – have a really good opportunity to participate and to use all of their gifts and talents to the fullest measure.
The RespectAbility Report: What specifically have you done to improve some of the lives of people with, Americans with disabilities?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I remember when I was the governor – you know, the Department of Justice came to Virginia and complained that our mental health facilities were not appropriate. And they wanted to have community services and to move more of the services into the community. And they wanted to actually impress federal control over the state’s programs. Now as a good conservative, I wouldn’t stand for control of our facilities and our programs by the federal government. But what I did tell them, that I was strongly in favor of community support and moving community support – people moving into community support type of programs. At the end of my four years, it was so recognized that we had so successfully improved community background and support for people with disabilities that the federal government went away, and didn’t come back, and I’m very proud of that record.
The RespectAbility Report: How do you get your information about people with disabilities? Do you have any personal connections, or have you spent time working on these issues?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: You know, we have a lot of people who speak to me about a lot of these kinds of issues. I remember when I was the governor I felt a real need to know more. And what I did was, I set up the Hammond Commission, which is, one of my former Deputy Attorney Generals was put in charge of a full commission to learn about the needs for people with disabilities in the State of Virginia and what kinds of programs would be necessary to make things better. And that was a big success. Then beyond that, of course, today the opportunity to talk to your friends, and to people that you know who have disabilities. And people, of course, who are speaking to you all the time in organizations. It’s plenty of opportunity now, the modern day to get information.
The RespectAbility Report: In your administration, would you have a designated person as liaison to the disability community?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: I certainly would. I had that type of structure, again when I was the governor of the state. And I’d be happy to appoint such a representative because I think you need to. I think there’s a need for special focus. And that will come from the appointment of a particular representative.
The RespectAbility Report: Given that more than 10 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing, and there are an additional seven million Americans with significant vision loss, do you plan to make your campaign materials and messages accessible to all?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Yes. In fact, just this very day, as a matter of fact, I was informed that my request in Florida has my name on the Republican ballot in this coming primary for people who are hearing impaired.
The RespectAbility Report: Excellent!
Gov. Jim Gilmore: And I’m really happy about that. I think that’s going to be, I think I’ll get a lot of votes that way (laughing). But yes, I think we fully intend to make materials available for people who have visual challenges, and also hearing challenges. In fact when I was governor, the head of my agency that dealt with these issues was a visually impaired individual.
The RespectAbility Report: Is there anything else you want voters with disabilities to know about what you would do as president?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: As President, I’m going to treat people, everybody as an asset to the country. And I think of people as being so valuable and so necessary to build up our economy and to provide such great value in their jobs and their learning and their opportunities. My aspiration is to see a much more vigorous economy so everybody has a fair chance. Did you know today that a lot of college students whether disabled or not, can’t get started in their careers?
The RespectAbility Report: Mmm hmm.
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Well I think a lot of people with disabilities sometimes have trouble getting started in their careers. And sometimes they feel excluded and left out. Well I know how that feels. And you know, I came up as the son of a workingman, without great privileges and I succeeded, so I understand that. And I think that often people with disabilities feel that they are being left behind. They’re not going to be left behind in a Gilmore administration when I’m President.
The RespectAbility Report: Are there any current issues you’re working on related to disability policy?
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Well, since I’ve been out of government, I’ve spent a great deal of time in business, and also running a research institution. So I’ve continued to stay active. But one thing that I’ve been very proud of is I was named to the Board of Directors of the Alexandria, Virginia Chamber of Commerce. And that board, of which I’m a participant, has put together a terrific program where we actually recognize businesses that hire people with disabilities; that create opportunities for people with disabilities. We recognize those and give business awards every year, and that encourages inclusion within the Alexandria community. I’m proud to be a part of it as a member of the Board of the Chamber of Commerce.
The RespectAbility Report: Thank you!