Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered brief remarks at the American Association of People with Disabilities Luncheon earlier this afternoon. Below are her remarks as prepared.
“Thank you for that kind introduction, Cheryl [Sensenbrenner], and for your leadership as Board Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities. During Cheryl's tenure, and because of Cheryl's advocacy, we were so proud to pass the ADA Amendments Act last year.
“I would also like to acknowledge the original author of the ADA, your new Board Chair, and my former colleague, Tony Coelho.
“I would also like to thank Yoshiko Dart for continuing the work on behalf of people with disabilities that was the lifework of her husband, Justin Dart.
“And I would like to recognize one of tonight's gala co-chairs, and a leader on disability issues, Ted Kennedy, Jr.
“You should know I come here today with a daughter in Texas and a son-in-law in Arizona who both teach children with special-needs. They constantly remind me of the funding needs.
“I have come here today to pay tribute to the American Association of People with Disabilities - the largest cross-disabilities organization in the country, and an extraordinarily effective disabilities organization in Washington.
“I would like to thank you for leading support in the disability community for Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. As President Obama mentioned when he introduced her, Judge Sotomayor is informed by her experience as an insulin-dependent diabetic.
“This week as we honor the 14th anniversary of the American Association of People with Disabilities, we also recognize the 19th anniversary of the one of the most significant civil rights laws of the last half century: the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The ADA is deeply and firmly rooted in a fundamental ideal: that we are all created equal. However, for too long, the ADA's promise was unfulfilled because of court rulings that wrongly ignored the intent of Congress.
“Last year, with the ADA Amendments Act, Congress reasserted the intent that ADA's protections be interpreted broadly to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability.
“We did so in full partnership with the American Association of People with Disabilities, and because of the leadership of Cheryl and Jim Sensenbrenner. Cheryl personally lobbied many Members to announce their support early - not the least of whom was Jim. It worked, as Congressman Sensenbrenner was the lead Republican sponsor.
“Jim worked closely with the one of original ADA sponsors, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who is also a strong and passionate advocate for rights of individuals of disabilities.
“As we mark the anniversary of the ADA, we recognize that the goals of this sweeping legislation are much harder to achieve without quality, affordable, and accessible health care for all Americans.
“The disability community is a major stakeholder in health care reform, and I thank you for your advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. We know that health care reform that works well with people with disabilities will work well for all Americans.
“Particularly significant will be the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions. That will mean that when people with disabilities lose a job or switch jobs, they cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. This will represent a sea change for all Americans.
“I come here today with exciting news: on October 7, Congress will unveil a statute of Helen Keller in the Capitol. As a deaf-blind individual who was a world leader in disability rights and social justice, and a woman ahead of her time, Helen Keller will be a proud addition to our halls.
“We will also reaffirm our commitment to her life's work: to ensure that opportunities are available to individuals with disabilities.
“With that in mind, we must always respect people for what they can do, not judge them for what they cannot do.
“When the ADA became law 19 years, ago, it broke new ground for civil rights, but it is deeply and firmly rooted in a fundamental American ideal: that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.
“And when we do, we will live up to the ideals of equality and opportunity that are both our heritage and our hope.”