Remarks On Receiving An Award From The American Association Of People With Disabilities

Thank you, Sarah, for your gracious introduction and for presenting me with one of this year’s Justice for All Awards.  Since taking over as Executive Director of Vermont’s Center for Independent Living a few months ago, Sarah has done great things and I look forward to continuing to work with her to make sure Vermonters with disabilities have access to the important services the Vermont Center for Independent Living provides.
I am also glad that all of you had the opportunity to hear from Secretary Arne Duncan.  Secretary Duncan recently came to Vermont to speak to graduates of Saint Michael’s College and to tour a few schools in Vermont.  He is committed to improving access to education for those with disabilities and I applaud his enthusiasm and hard work in leading the Department of Education.
Improving the lives of those with disabilities is an issue I care deeply about.  I was happy to have been part of the overwhelming bipartisan consensus that passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
As we reflect on the 19th anniversary of the ADA, we realize how much more needs to be done.  Too many barriers still exist for Americans living with disabilities and we must work together to continue to make improvements to improve the lives of those with functional limitations.  These limitations are not always physical.  Mental health issues are a growing concern in our country, and we must continue to work to make sure that those who face these disabilities also have access to important services.  I was glad to work with Senator Kennedy and others to pass the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Reduction Act, which promotes public safety and community health by helping criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health treatment, and substance abuse treatment systems collaborate to improve the response to individuals with mental illness within those systems.
We also need to support the full enforcement of the ADA and all of our nation’s civil rights laws.  During the last eight years, through letters and oversight hearings, I urged the Bush Department of Justice to improve what had been very lax oversight of civil rights violations.  I am pleased that with the confirmation of Attorney General Holder the Justice Department is newly committed to enforcing the ADA and holding violators accountable.
Not only have I advocated for full enforcement of the ADA, but I have opposed nominees to serve lifetime appointments on our federal judiciary who have sought to weaken the ADA or have not recognized congressional power to enact laws protecting civil and individual rights.  Just last week, I chaired the confirmation hearings for a judge whose record shows a consistent understanding of Congress’ intent in passing the ADA.  Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings were historic, and I was glad to work with the AAPD to ensure that guests with disabilities had access to the hearings.
Be it improving access to health care for people with disabilities, or further integrating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Congress needs to lead the way in removing barriers to everyday life for people with disabilities.
Thank you presenting me with this award and for all the invaluable work you do on behalf of disabled Americans around the country.   

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