Philadelphia, July 27 – The second night of the DNC began with a tribute to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was celebrating its 26 years since it was signed into law. In doing so, it answered some disability activists’ criticisms that while the DNC has highlighted and included people with disabilities such as Anastasia Somoza on the first night, there had been little substantive conversation regarding disability issues on the main stage.
“We are a better nation because of the ADA. But we still have a way to go to build a truly inclusive America,” former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said. “When, 26 years later, 70 percent of adults with disabilities aren’t in the workforce, it’s time to take action. That’s why Hillary Clinton wants to ensure people with disabilities are judged by their potential and have the tools to secure competitive integrated employment.”
Harkin also called for an end to subminimum wage and a passage of the Disability Integration Act “so our fellow Americans can live where they want,” two items that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supports.
“As president, Hillary Clinton will bring people with disabilities to the table for a more inclusive America,” Harkin added.
In a statement released in commemoration of the ADA anniversary, Clinton stated:
“As President, I will continue to advance disability rights and work to fulfill the promise of the ADA. I will work to expand support for people to live in integrated community settings, consistent with the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision. As part of that effort, I will push Congress to enact the Disability Integration Act so that Americans with disabilities who need long-term services and supports can receive that care in home- and community-based settings if they so choose. And I will work to improve access to competitive integrated employment.”
Harkin, who learned sign language from his brother Frank, who is deaf, ended his speech by leading the entire audience in learning a sign together. When finished, he proudly proclaimed, “This is the sign for America!”
“We are all connected,” Harkin concluded. “No one is left out in the constant circle of life in America. This is the America we all want, disabled and non-disabled, and it is the America President Hillary Clinton will fight for, where every person is respected, valued and treated with dignity.”
While Harkin spoke, he was surrounded by a group of individuals with a variety of disabilities, including RespectAbility’s own James Trout, a policy and democracy fellow with Asperger’s who spent more than a month in Iowa and New Hampshire engaging candidates on both sides of the aisle in issues important to the disability community, specifically relating to employment.
Prior to Harkin’s speech, Paralympic swimmer and gold medalist Mallory Weggemann recited the Pledge of Allegiance and Temple University student Timmy Kelly, a blind man who is majoring in music, sung the national anthem.
People with disabilities constitute fully one-in-five of America’s population – more than 56 million Americans. With 20 percent of Americans self-identifying as a part of the disability community – and the majority of voters having a family member or close friend with a disability – it is in the best interest of candidate who wants to be elected president of the United States to seek out the votes of people with disabilities.
According to word searches compiled by The New York Times, the word disability did not even register on the word clouds during the 2012 conventions by either party.
“If any candidate wants to be elected president of the United States, they are going to need the votes of people with disabilities,” RespectAbility President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi said. “Presidential candidates need to work for all of us. They need to represent all of us.”