President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden held a ceremony on Wednesday in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and to mark Disability Pride Month.
The law, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, prohibits discrimination based on disability, affording similar protections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Biden, who called the ADA "one of our most important civil rights laws ever," highlighted his administration's efforts to support Americans with disabilities, including the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which he said "makes the biggest investment ever in an accessible transit, updating subways, trains and airports."
“For our country, the ADA is a testament to the character of our people, to the country,” Biden said. “It’s proof we can work together and keep moving closer to realizing the promise of America for all Americans.”
“And it’s proof of the power of our example, an American law that is a global model inspiring 180 other nations to pass similar disabilities laws,” Biden said.
The president said that he and the first lady hosted the event “to celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act,” which he co-sponsored as a member of the U.S. Senate, and “to acknowledge a movement that’s not just about disability rights, but also about disability pride.”
“It’s about recognizing disability isn’t something broken to be fixed,” the president added. “For millions of Americans, their disability is a source of identity and power.”
Dr. Biden kicked off the event by praising the disability community, calling their story one of “fearlessness and resilience.”
“It’s a story of tireless dedication and overcoming incredible obstacles, both figurative and concrete,” she said, recalling the “Capitol Crawl” demonstration, where activists — including eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins — shed their wheelchairs, crutches and other assistive devices to pull their bodies up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in an act of protest.
“Because of the work of thousands of courageous people like Jennifer who refused to be silent about the indignities they faced, who built coalitions and unified advocates, unions and civil rights leaders, who held on to the hope of a better way, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 32 years ago,” Dr. Biden said to cheers and applause from the crowd.
“This community continues to shape our nation, crafting our laws and dismantling injustice,” she added.
The first lady introduced Bowie, Maryland, Mayor Tim Adams, who uses a wheelchair after he was paralyzed in an accident years ago.
Recounting that his life changed in 2003 when he suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury that “left me a paraplegic,” Mayor Adams said that “I learned that the Americans with Disabilities Act was a lifeline for me and others like me.”
“By codifying the right to equal opportunities, independence and economic self-sufficiency, it ensured that I could still open doors or move down the sidewalk on my own, and that I would continue to be in the room and be part of the discussions and the opportunities for my business to grow,” said Adams, who founded Systems Application & Technologies, Inc., named one of the top Black-owned businesses in America by Black Enterprise Magazine.
In introducing the president, Adams praised the Biden administration’s leadership, adding that he was “deeply touched by the personal commitment that President Joe Biden has demonstrated to this cause throughout his career.”
President Biden called Mayor Adams and those gathered at the event — including Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Iraq War who lost both legs when her craft was shot down by insurgents in 2004 — an “inspiration.”
Biden praised Duckworth in particular, saying that she is “not only a great senator, but you’re really genuinely a hero, you’re a war hero.”
The president praised the advocates gathered at the event “who’ve worked so hard to make our country more accessible and more just.”
After the president’s remarks, the crowd was treated to a performance from José André Montaño, a 17-year-old piano prodigy from Cochabamba, Bolivia, who is blind.
“I was stunned by his music,” Dr. Biden said, recalling a performance she heard Montaño give a the Kennedy Center earlier this year. “It was incredible. And I couldn’t wait to bring him to the White House.”
Ahead of his performance, Montaño said it was an “honor” to be at the White House with “authorities and my community” celebrating the ADA anniversary.
“You have to love your differences, and life is more wonderful if you love your differences and you love who you are, because if you see it closely, it wouldn’t make sense — life wouldn’t make sense,” Montaño said ahead of his final song. “So, it’s always good to see it with a great smile every day. Be responsible with your work, your study and your environment, and let’s take care of nature, because that’s where we live and that’s where we are truly prosperous. Let’s make the world a better place.”