I was enormously proud to be a co-sponsor to the ADA as Pat Leahy was, as well, if I’m not mistaken, as a member of the United States Senate.And I’m proud to be here today, as President, alongside so many fearless champions who represent the ongoing legacy of this law, from the foundations to its future.
Thirty-one years ago, after its passage, many Americans have never lived in a world without the ADA. Generations have grown up not knowing a time before it existed.
But many of us can still recall an America where a person with a disability was denied service in restaurants and grocery stores, and could be; where a person using a wheelchair couldn’t ride on a train or take a bus to work or to school; where an employer could refuse to hire you because of a disability. An America that wasn’t built for all Americans.
Then we passed the ADA and made a commitment to build a nation for all of us. All of us. And we moved America closer to fulfilling that promise of liberty and justice, and maybe most importantly, dignity and equality for all.
You know, and perhaps most importantly, we did it together. This was a Democratic bill signed by a Republican president. A product of passion and compassion, not partisanship. Progress that wasn’t political, but personal, to millions of families.
I’ll never forget the moment the ADA passed. And you may remember it, Pat. Standing on the floor of the United States Senate, and Tom Harkin saw the recognition — he rose. And the first time — first time in the history that I’m aware of — in the United States Senate, he stood up and he signed in a speech to his brother. Tom wasn’t just sending a message to millions of deaf and hard-of-hearing folks; he was speaking to his brother, Frank. It was personal to him.
It was personal to Bob Dole, as well, who lost the use of his right arm in a heroic effort during World War Two; who laid out in a hospital for almost three years — his injury listed, and they also lasted an entire lifetime.
But like so many Americans, he turned his disability, his apparent limitation, into greater purpose and will. He made — he made the rights of disabled Americans a lifelong cause.
And for more than 60 million Americans living with disabilities, the ADA is so much more than a law; it’s a source of opportunity, participation, independent living, and respect and dignity, the bulwark against discrimination, and a path to independence.
And for our nation, the ADA is more than a law as well; it’s testament to our character as a people, our character as Americans. It’s a triumph of American values.
But, of course, this law didn’t bring an end to the work we need to do. Today, too many Americans still face barriers to freedom and equality. But thanks to this movement that spans all races, beliefs, backgrounds, and generations, we’re once again making progress together.