Office of Public Engagement

White House Launches Celebration Of 20th Anniversary Of Americans With Disabilities Act

Sunday night, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, kicked off the President’s and White House’s celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act while delivering remarks to over 2,000 people from around the World at the VSA International Festival at the Kennedy Center. Valerie’s remarks, which you can find below, noted the significance of this historic landmark civil rights legislation, highlighted some of the President’s initiatives thus far related to people with disabilities and previewed that senior administration officials will be commemorating this historic anniversary in the weeks to come with new policies and events.

So, stay tuned for more announcements and information in the upcoming weeks.

2010 International VSA Festival Opening Ceremony June 6, 2010
Valerie Jarrett Remarks

Thank you, David for that very kind and generous introduction and for your new chairmanship of this extraordinary Center. We know your tenure will be marked with many accomplishments, and the support of you and your wonderful wife Alice as the principal underwriters for this evening is a wonderful start. We thank you, David. Let's please give him a round of applause.

What an exciting night. I am having so much fun already, and it's just beginning. It's always an honor for me to be able to represent the President and First Lady of the United States who bring you greetings and wish they could be here with you this evening, and I can't wait to report what a treat this has been. David recognized Soula Antoniou who-and I know she is up in the box, and I want to say just your passionate advocacy for people with disabilities and all that this conference stands for is just tremendous. So, one more round of applause for Soula, please.

David also mentioned Vicky, you grace us with your presence, and of course we want to recognize the contribution of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the critical role that he played in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. And throughout the course of his long career was a steadfast champion for people with disabilities, and we miss him dearly, and his impressive legacy and good works and service certainly continue, and he is here with us tonight.

I am honored to represent the White House and the President who is so deeply committed to honoring and enforcing the rights of all people with disabilities. But disability rights are human rights, and to be recognized and promoted from both here at home and certainly around the world and we should lead by example.

That's why the President was so proud to add America to the list of 140 countries that signed onto the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This was the first new human rights treaty of the 21st Century.

It's also why president Obama lifted the ban on stem cell research.

It's why he provided more than $12 billion in funding in the Recovery Act for individuals with disabilities education act.

It's why he signed into law the Christopher and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act. And it's why the President launched the Year of Community Living, to affirm the fundamental right of people with disabilities to live with dignity and respect wherever they choose, and we're just beginning. This is just the beginning.

We will celebrate our successes, but we will not stop, and we will know that there is still lots of hard work ahead.
But tonight, I am so pleased to be able to kick off the administration's recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA was a landmark civil rights legislation.  It was a bill of rights for persons with disabilities, a formal acknowledgement that Americans with disabilities are Americans first and that they're entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everybody else.

So over the course of the upcoming weeks we will honor this commitment across the country, senior White House officials, cabinet members, members of our administration, and of course the general public will commemorate this historic anniversary through various events, new policy announcements, and other recognitions.

This festival and the ADA's 20th anniversary are both an opportunity to recommit ourselves to making sure that we see those with disabilities for what they can do rather than for what they cannot. And that everyone has the right to pursue the American dream, everyone, just like everyone else.

And of course this has been the life's work of tonight's honoree, Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith, VSA's founder, and you will be hearing from her in a moment. But I would like to add our congratulations to the very important work that she's done over the course of her lifetime for people with disabilities, people with intellectual disabilities, and her commitment to VSA. So thank you, Ambassador, for your hard work.

For more than 35 years, VSA has made the arts both accessible and enjoyable to people with disabilities.  And in so doing, VSA has changed social attitudes and just as important, it has changed the lives of those it seeks to serve. Tonight we celebrate this incredible organization's legacy, and just as important, we celebrate the artists, those who show us that with passion and hard work and incredible talent, absolutely anything is possible.

Although you will not be seeing me on that skateboard, I will say, we have already enjoyed the wonderful performance so far this evening, and I look forward to the rest of the evening and the duration of the festival.  And again, we want to thank you for coming tonight for the support that you give this organization and this cause each and every day, and for being a part of this extraordinary celebration.

Thank you all, and enjoy the night.

Kareem Dale is Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy

Your Federal Tax Receipt