Our campaign is about the fundamental belief that in America, every person — no matter what you look like or who you are — should have the chance to go as far as your dreams will take you.
That includes a group of Americans who, to many, are invisible — who have so much to offer, but are given far too few chances to prove it. I’m talking about people with disabilities: men and women, boys and girls who have talents, skills, ideas, and dreams for themselves and their families, just like anybody else.
And whether they can participate in our economy and lead rich, full lives is a reflection on us as a country. Right now, in many ways, we are falling short.
Nearly one in five Americans lives with a disability. Some of those disabilities are highly visible, others harder to notice. If you don’t think you know someone with a disability, I promise you, you do. But their disability is just one part of who they are.
Across the country, people with disabilities are running businesses, teaching our students, and caring for our loved ones. They’re holding public office, making breakthrough scientific discoveries, reporting the news, and creating art that inspires and challenges us. They’re veterans whose service and sacrifice have protected our freedom and kept our country safe.
Over the past few decades, our country has taken leaps forward — not just in recognizing the humanity and dignity of people with disabilities, but in making long-overdue changes in our schools, workplaces, and communities, so everyone can be a part of our shared American life.
Even so, not long ago, if you had a disability — if you couldn’t see, couldn’t walk, lived with dyslexia or muscular dystrophy or some other health issue — that one fact defined your entire life. Because of that and that alone, the world was closed to you — not all of it, and not for everyone, but for most people. Basic, essential things that others could do, you couldn’t and never would. And that was that.
I saw this for myself many years ago, when I was just starting out.
My first job after law school was with the Children’s Defense Fund, and one of my first assignments was to figure out why so many American children weren’t in school. The numbers from the Census didn’t match the numbers in our classrooms. So I went door-to-door in one community where the disparity was especially noticeable: New Bedford, Massachusetts. And soon, I realized that part of the problem was there were kids stuck at home because of a disability.
There were kids who were hard-of-hearing. Kids with intellectual disabilities. I remember one little girl in a wheelchair, who was smart, curious, and absolutely desperate to go to school. But that chair held her back. Not all schools had ramps or accessible bathrooms. And most teachers and aides weren’t trained to help her. So she didn’t get to go. It felt like the world had said to her, “Sorry, kid. Your life just isn’t going to be worth very much.” And she and her family weren’t rich and powerful, so what could they do about it?
That little girl reminded me of another little girl — my mother. She didn’t face the exact same challenges growing up, but she, too, was blocked from a full and happy childhood. She was abandoned by her parents, raised by grandparents who didn’t want her, and ended up on her own when she was just 14, supporting herself as a housemaid. But finally, something went her way. The woman she worked for encouraged her to finish high school. And that family showed my mother what a happy family looked like. After many lonely years, it was the start of a better life.
The core lesson from her childhood was that none of us gets through life alone. We all have to look out for each other and lift each other up. I remembered that years later, sitting on that porch with that little girl in a wheelchair.
My colleagues and I at the Children’s Defense Fund gathered the facts. We built a coalition of activists and families across America. And together, we helped convince Congress to pass a ground-breaking law saying that children with disabilities have the right to be educated in public schools, just like any other kids.
So I cheered when the Americans with Disabilities Act finally passed 26 years ago, by a bipartisan group of legislators, because the notion that workplaces and public spaces belong to everyone was one that Democrats and Republicans could both get behind. I’m proud that some of the Democrats and Republicans who passed that landmark bill are supporting my campaign, because they know where my heart is on this.
As Secretary of State, I appointed the first ever Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, because I wanted America to stand up for the rights and dignity of people with disabilities all over the world.
And over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time working for kids with disabilities — like Anastasia Somoza. I first met Anastasia when she was nine years old. She raised her hand at a town hall and she said, “My twin sister can’t speak. Because of that, they put her in a separate class, apart from the rest of the kids. But she can communicate with a computer. And she’s very smart and would do just as well as anyone else, if the principal and teachers would just give her a chance.” I was just blown away by this nine-year-old girl — her confidence and how much she loved her sister. Anastasia and I stayed in touch over the years, and she eventually became my intern in the Senate.
And kids like Ryan Moore, who also spoke at the Democratic National Convention. I first met Ryan when he was seven years old, and I was fighting for health care reform. He was born with a rare form of dwarfism, but he never let that stop him. Now he’s a college graduate, working in the technology department of his local school district.
Listening to Ryan and Anastasia tell their stories at the convention this July, I thought about all the people out there who never got the chance to go to college, get jobs, become forces for change. And I thought about all the mothers and fathers across America who love their children more than anything and want so badly for them to have every opportunity in the world.
We’ve come a long way since the fall of 1973, when I was going door to door talking to kids and their families. But make no mistake — America still has a lot more work to do. We cannot be satisfied, not when over 60 percent of adults with disabilities aren’t in the workforce. Not when businesses are allowed to pay employees with disabilities a subminimum wage. Not when people with physical and intellectual disabilities are still subjected to stigma and discrimination every single day.
We’ve got to build an inclusive economy that welcomes people with disabilities, values their work, rewards them fairly, and treats them with respect. One advocate after another has told me the same thing: “We don’t want pity. We want paychecks. We want the chance to contribute.”
As president, I’m going to give them that chance.
First, we’re going to focus on jobs and incomes. I’m going to fight to give more Americans with disabilities the chance to work alongside those without disabilities, doing the same jobs for the same pay and benefits. We’re going to eliminate the subminimum wage, which is a vestige from an ugly, ignorant past, because good work deserves fair pay, no matter who you are.
Second, we’re going to work with our colleges and universities to make them more accessible to students with disabilities. To have a truly inclusive economy, we need a truly inclusive education system. For too long, accessibility has been an afterthought. It’s time to raise our standards and make it a priority — in our curriculums, our classrooms and the technology our schools use.
Third, we’re going to partner with businesses and other stakeholders to ensure those living with a disability can get hired and stay hired. As part of that, we’ll launch a new effort we’re calling “Autism Works,” to help people with autism succeed in the workplace.
Fourth, let’s build on the success of the Americans with Disabilities Act by finally ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It has the strong backing of leaders across the political spectrum. And it’s a chance to show American values and American leadership. Let’s get it done.
These ideas are just a start. We’re working with advocates to come up with more.
I’ve always believed that the ultimate test of our society is more than the size of our economy or the strength of our military. It’s how we treat our fellow human beings, especially the most vulnerable among us. And on this front especially, I intend for my presidency to move our country forward.
Together, we will make our economy and our country more welcoming to people with disabilities. Because we all win when everyone gets to share in our nation’s promise.
This election is a chance for us to move still closer to that goal. To make sure that everyone can contribute to a growing and prospering America. To say loudly and clearly that in this country, no one is “less than.” In this country, we all have value, and we all belong.