Listening

Last week the White House hosted a meeting of presidents and CEOs of disability organizations.  We asked Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, to tell us about it.
 
Kareem Dale at the meeting(Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, meets with presidents and CEOs of major disability organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 15, 2009. Photo credit: Yosi Sergant)
Unprecedented. That seemed to be the theme of Wednesday’s White House meeting with over 60 presidents/CEOs of almost every major national disability organization in the United States.
Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s Senior Advisor, kicked off the day by discussing the importance that the disability rights movement had to both her and the President personally. And even though she had a scheduled flight that she should have left for a good half-hour before the start of the event, Valerie decided to attend anyway. It was an honor to see Valarie make that time commitment as a reflection of this administration’s commitment to the disability community.
 
Valerie Jarrett at the meeting(Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison, meets with presidents and CEOs of major disability organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 15, 2009. Photo credit: Yosi Sergant
The First Lady’s Office was next in the line-up. The Deputy Policy Director, Trooper Sanders, was terrific in his presentation because he set the tone for the rest of the day. After speaking for a few minutes outlining the First Lady’s intimate relationship with people with disabilities and her dedication to furthering the cause, Trooper turned the presentation over to the crowd and began asking for their input and suggestions. It became very clear early on that this was not going to be your typical White House lecture. This was a White House discussion, where those present weren’t just attendees, they were participants. The Obama administration recognizes that it doesn’t have all the answers.  This event set out to lay the foundation toward developing those critical solutions.
Don Gips, Director of Presidential Personnel, spoke next. He addressed the progress this administration has already made in hiring senior officials in the White House and federal agencies, as well as touching on plans to appoint more people with disabilities than ever before. He also announced new appointments, including Christine Griffin as Deputy Director at OPM and Henry Claypool as Director of the Office of Disability at HHS, to name a few. These appointments are extremely critical to improving the lives of people with disabilities related to employment and healthcare. Jeff Crowley, Senior Advisor on Disability Policy on the Domestic Policy Council, followed Don by highlighting legislative achievements made by this administration, such as the Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act and signing of CHIP legislation which provides funding to children with disabilities.
Beth Noveck from the Office of Science and Technology provided insight into just how groundbreaking this administration has been and will be in making the government more accessible and transparent. Robert Gordon from the Office of Management and Budget perfectly segued into the significance of this administration’s transparency, saying at one point, "Whenever I want to know what’s going on, I don’t ask my colleagues, I go to www.recovery.gov." Jason Furman, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, discussed the important role the disability community has in getting our country back on the right track, pointing out specific inclusions in the recovery plan. He also announced that his Policy Director is a person with a disability that will be starting with Jason in a few weeks. Tina Tchen, Director of the Office of Public Liaison, closed out the meeting by stressing the importance of working together and her plans to include the disability community in every major White House public event. They all gave great presentations. But more importantly, every one of our speakers engaged the audience, asking for advice and taking notes. Change was in the air.
Jason Furman at the meeting(Jason Furman, Deputy Directors of the National Economic Council, meets with presidents and CEOs of major disability organizations in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on April 15, 2009. Photo credit: Yosi Sergant)
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