Remarks by Vice President Harris at the 32nd Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act Reception
Vice President’s Residence
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good evening.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good evening, good evening. Welcome to the official residence of the Vice President of the United States. Welcome to all of you. What a wonderful sight to see.
The Second Gentleman and I were so looking forward to this evening to welcome you into our home to thank you.
I think that Senator Harkin said it so well: This is a movement. We — we rest on broad shoulders of folks who through their activism, their courage, their commitment, have allowed us to celebrate this 32nd anniversary. But still, if we are to live as part of their legacy, we also know we have a lot more to do and that we are part of a movement whose work is unfinished.
But I’m so honored to be with all of you today. Senator Harkin, I just want to thank you. I was in the Senate, as many of you know, for about four years. He is a legend among senators. (Laughter.) Any senator who dares to even think that they may offer any role of leadership as it relates to fighting for disability rights in America, first consult with Tom Harkin to make sure they’re on the right track and are consistent with everything that he had as a vision during his days there.
Tony Coelho, I want to thank you. I — the work that you have done, it has always been extraordinary. I have — being from California, doing this work, I know of the longstanding work that you have done to be a very powerful advocate, and so it is an honor to be with you as well.
General, thank you for understanding. And it has been said, but you have had a long career of fighting for civil rights and for justice. And certainly this movement has been the movement that is about the ongoing fight for civil rights and for justice and for equality.
So, I’m very honored to be with all of you this evening.
You know, when I think about where we are today, I think we’ve come a long way, but we have a lot to do. I should start by saying that my pronoun is “she” and “her.” I am a woman wearing a light blue suit standing on steps — (applause) — and looking at everyone here — (laughs) — to talk about these issues.
And so think about it: Thirty-two years ago to this very day — to this very day, July 26 — the Americans with Disability law was signed into law.
And yes, so we celebrate what that day meant for so many people who deserve to be seen, deserve to be heard, deserve to be felt and known and understood.
But yet, as has been said, there’s still so much to do when we think about the issue of housing, when we think about the issue of education, when we talked about today with many of the leaders who are here about the importance of fighting for disability communities around the issue of reproductive health and access to reproductive health, what we must do in the continuing fight to fight for dignity for all people.
The spirit of this movement has always been also about understanding the importance of self-determination, understanding the right that all people have to self-determination and what we as a whole community must do to ensure that right exist for all people, regardless of where they live and who they are.
But we do have a lot to celebrate. Jalyn, you talked about it in terms of, during the course of your lifetime, what has been made possible in the world you have known and then the world you know about, and the world we know about, which still we need to do some work. But it was the world where a person could be — a person with disabilities could be fired from a job because they requested accommodations. It was a world where a student can be refused admission to a school because they used a wheelchair; where people could be denied the freedom to vote simply because they needed assistance in casting a ballot.
Some of this stuff sounds like we’re watching the evening news tomorrow — right? — in terms of the issues that still exist.
You know, I’ve often said: It’s one thing to talk about, you know, in places like Washington, D.C., that we will celebrate the fact and the glasses will ching about something got passed, but the real measure of the success is: Has it actually hit the streets? Has it actually been part of the reality of a lived experience for all people it is intended to benefit? And so that’s why we know that there’s still more work to do.
I do want to also express greetings from President Joe Biden, who — he knows that we were all getting together tonight. He wishes he could be here. But there is some work that our administration has done on this issue that has been quite intentional.
So, for example, what we have done is to make America more accessible and equitable by saying that we need to invest in our children with disabilities. And to that end, we have dedicated $17 billion to help children with disabilities succeed in the classroom for a long time. (Applause.)
As many of you know, a large part of my career has been to fight for the rights of women and children. And so when we think at this particular point on this issue about the importance of IEPs and what we need to do to strengthen a process — where we ensure that it is real and not just something on paper; that it is resourced, that it is a priority for our schools, and our educators, and administrators; to make those Individual Education Programs and plans real in a way that they have impact for the children — we have put $25 billion into home and community-based services. (Applause.)
And as Senator Harkin mentioned, that’s about saying, “Yeah, okay. It should have happened.” And I know you fought for it, originally. But through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are now able to dedicate billions of dollars to say that homeowners should have the support to build a ramp, to make their home accessible and livable for all people, including folks with disabilities, so that they don’t have to go somewhere they don’t want to go.
Part of this point about fighting for the freedom and the self-determination is fighting to give people a choice. And therein lies also the connections between it all.
With the leaders who are here today who visited with me in my office earlier today, we talked about that — the intersection between all of these movements when it comes to the fight for freedom and liberty and choice and self-determination. All of this is connected.
And in that way, as the Second Gentleman, my husband Dougie, said: We’re all in this together. (Laughter.) We’re all in this together.
You know, when I think about what our administration has been able to do to — we’ve now committed to ADA-compliant transit stations, and we’re in the midst of retrofitting 900 transit stations. That, again, is about making this promise real but understanding the intersection between all of the communities that will benefit.
You know, when we lift up any one of us, all people rise. And that’s part of what this movement has always been. We think about it in terms of what we have done because of the leaders of this movement and the sacrifices and the determination, and how thinking about accessibility not just as a concept, but then how does it actually play out, how that impacts everybody.
I think about including the single mother who’s got three kids, one of whom is in a stroller, who is trying to get down the block and down a few blocks to get on the bus to get to work and what this movement has done to benefit her. What this movement has been about, to say: When we’re thinking about things like advances in technology, do all people have access? But doing it in a way that people are connected and not disconnected, not relegated to say, “Okay, now people can work from their home.” No, this is about choices that include integration.
Accessibility is about integration. Think about this: how all of these points overlap. Integration. Equality. Accessibility. Freedom. Liberty. Choice.
That’s what this movement has always been about. And in that way, the leaders of this movement who are here have led always in the civil rights movement of our country and, by extension, as a model for other countries around the world.
So, I want to thank everyone here. It has not been easy to get to this place and, in particular, for those who directly have so much at stake.
But this is a moment to rejoice in recognizing that when we put up the fight, we do see progress. It’s a moment to reflect that nothing we gain will ever be permanent if we are not vigilant. It is a moment to then recommit ourselves to the knowledge that it is the nature of the ongoing fight for rights and civil rights and disability rights. That we cannot tire. We cannot be overwhelmed. We are always fueled with optimism to see what can be unburdened by what has been. It’s not a fight against something; it’s a fight for something. (Applause.)
And so with all of that, I say again, being Vice President of the United States and watching what this movement has done as I travel around the country — yes, I was in Indiana yesterday. (Laughter.) We can talk about that later. (Laughter.)
But when I see the progress that this movement has made for the benefit of all people in our nation, I have nothing but incredible and deep gratitude to you, the leaders of this movement, and for all the folks who may not be here right now but who we praise for allowing us to have this moment to celebrate the victories that have been achieved, but to recommit ourselves to what we have yet to do.
I thank you all very much. Thank you. (Applause.)