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America: Land of Opportunity for People with Disabilities

Tammy Duckworth walking on stage with her prosthetic legs, wearing a black suit with American flag in background
U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) on the fourth day of the DNC (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Philadelphia, July 29 – Rep. Tammy Duckworth offered a simple but powerful message of the American spirit and inclusion on the last night of the Democratic National Convention.

“I worked hard, but I had a lot of help from my community and country,” she said. “My story is not unique. It’s a story about why this country is the greatest nation on earth.”

Duckworth represents multiple groups who often are overlooked in American politics. She is the first Thai American to be elected to U.S. Congress, as well as the first woman with a disability to become a member of the House of Representatives in 2012.

This path was not an easy one, as she and her parents struggled financially after her father was laid off in his 50’s. By saving money and not using the bus, using affordable student loans and working many hours as a waitress, Duckworth eventually achieved her dream of graduating college.

Duckworth lost both of her legs in 2004 while serving in Iraq. Her fellow soldiers saved her life, which she said shaped her life in terms of her feelings of camaraderie and selflessness for this country.

“It’s a story about why this is the greatest nation on earth. A nation that so many are willing to die defending,” she said. “A nation that says: if you keep working hard, we won’t abandon you. Of course, in Donald Trump’s America, if you get knocked down, you stay down.”

Duckworth’s personal story resonated among potential donors and supporters for her upcoming race against Sen. Mark Kirk, who also has a disability, for the Senate. She lauded the Democratic Party for its policies and perspectives.

“We’re Democrats because we stand up for the most vulnerable among us,” she said, specifically mentioning two identities close to her heart – immigrants and people with disabilities. “We embrace the notion that lifting one another up doesn’t cost nearly as much as leaving other Americans behind.”

Lorella Praeli, another immigrant with a disability, also spoke Thursday evening. Serving as Clinton’s Latino Outreach Director, she only recently became a U.S. citizen. When she was two years old, she was hit by a car and lost one of her legs. Her mother decided to immigrate to America where her disability would not prevent her from achieving her goals.

“My parents were determined that I would reach my full potential and not be limited by my disability,” she said.

Duckworth and Praeli both represent commonly overlooked and underserved populations that make up a large part of the United States. By demonstrating their abilities and showcasing their achievements last night at the DNC, they serve as examples that people with multiple minority statuses can achieve the American Dream, regardless of place of birth, financial situation or disability status.

Published inCongressDemocratsDNC


  1. Jake Billingsley Jake Billingsley

    The promise of the ADA and Olmstead are still unfulfilled promises and those laws and court orders are violated all the time.

    70% of Americans with disabilities are unemployed, almost 50% of Americans with disabilities live below the poverty level, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities have been waiting for years for Medicaid Disability Waivers Services, and even the federal government offices of civil rights and the White House have failed to act adequately on disability rights violations.

    The National Council on Disability is studying the correlation between disabilities and poverty.

    Our disability system itself creates much of the hardship and poverty for people with disabilities because it is not a comprehensively coordinated efficient system, but one with programs and services spread across thousands of federal agencies, state governments, CMOs, and NGOs.

    The connections between disability and poverty can be seen in people with disabilities in various ways such as in the limitations of equal economic opportunity to those born with disabilities and their families, in the financial crises caused by becoming disabled as a working adult, in the inability to return to the work place and lack of assistance to become independently productive, in the resistance or discrimination encountered attempting to rejoin the workforce, and in severe or total lack of productive economic capability.

    All disabilities are unique and there is not a one size fits all solution to this complex problem poverty and suffering in our community, though virtually all people with disabilities must rely on some level or form of assistance, support service, or process of legal protection and advocacy of Disability Civil and Human Rights.

    The Right to Rehabilitation should be an entitlement , not a service which a person with disabilities must otherwise qualify for, a right to gain or regain the abilities to be as productive as one can at whatever level one can achieve.

    To end poverty in the disability community and to provide the equality guaranteed under the law for people with disabilities, our broken and dysfunctional system must be reworked because its failures are what create the poverty and inequality for people with disabilities.

    Read more of my public comment to the NCD at:

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