Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped

May 01, 1980

Thank you very much, and good morning to you. Secretary Marshall, Chairman Russell, Mayor McNichols, ladies and gentlemen, and a special friend of mine who's here this morning, who was willing to ride over here with me from the White House, Senator Jennings Randolph:

Senator Randolph has been a friend of handicapped Americans long before many of you were born. In 1931, as he prepared to conduct a successful campaign for the United States Senate, he had a belief long before many people agreed with him that blind Americans should be brought out of the dark places and put into the forefront of productive life.

He introduced a bill when he was a freshman Senator, in 1933, to establish a program for blind entrepreneurs to sell goods in public buildings—Federal, State, local—and later, of course, to expand this program to the private sector. This year 3,974 blind people, because of his good work, are actively involved, and their total sales, he tells me, was more than $150 million.

This bill was signed by a handicapped person of whom many of you have heard, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our President. This is a good indication of what can be done when all of us recognize the tremendous potential of the handicapped to serve productive lives in our great society. John Adams, the second man to hold the office of President, and a man of very deep religious convictions and a firm commitment to freedom, said, "People and nations are forged in the fires of adversity."

You here today understand the truth and the pain of that statement. You have triumphed over limitations, sometimes very severe limitations, and you now work productively to help shape the world, to reshape the world so that it can be a fairer place not only to you but for others. Your will and your determination have been forged in the fires of adversity, and you must now be full participants in every aspect of the life of this Nation. And I'm determined to assure that that goal will be reached.

This must include education, employment, housing, transportation and, also, the political process. You must have the right to develop your talents to the fullest, the right to do things and to learn in the process, the right to fail on occasion along with all the rest of us, and the right to try again. And in exercising these kinds of rights, your strength, growing out of adversity, will help to make America strong.

Next year has been designated as the International Year of Disabled Persons by the United Nations and, as President, I intend not only to cooperate in this effort but to see that the entire decade of the 1980's is one in which handicapped people have full access to our society, maximum independence, and the opportunity to develop and to use your full capabilities.

As you know, much has been done in the last 3 years to lay the foundation for achieving the goal which I have just outlined to you. When I took office, the Rehabilitation Act had been law for 4 years. Regulations to prohibit discrimination against handicapped persons in employment, in education and health programs had still not been issued. With your help, as you well remember, we got the first regulations issued in 3 months. And in 1978 I signed amendments which apply the nondiscriminatory provisions of this Act not only in the private sector but to the Federal Government as well. Antidiscrimination laws are the cornerstone of civil rights for the handicapped. And by the end of 1980, all Federal agencies will have final regulations implementing Section 504.

It's not enough just to issue regulations. Now we'll take the next step toward ending discrimination against the handicapped-to carry out the law, and to carry out the provisions of those regulations. I will soon issue an Executive order, now being prepared, placing the responsibility for coordinating enforcement of these regulations in the Department of Justice under the Attorney General of the United States.

I want to thank you at this time for your help to me in assuring that the Congress supports the increased attention needed for programs benefiting the handicapped. My budget request for education of handicapped children for the coming year, in spite of very stringent limits, as you well know, is more than three times the amount proposed by my predecessor's last budget.

We've already increased budget authority for schools teaching the handicapped by 41 percent. Next week we celebrate together the inauguration of a new Department of Education, headed by Shirley Hufstedler, who will have the responsibility for the majority of programs that benefit handicapped Americans. We're cutting through bureaucratic redtape and bureaucratic confusion and delay. You will no longer need to wonder or to be uncertain about who specifically is responsible for the education of the handicapped. This will be a great step forward.

In 1977, as you remember, we took another good step by creating the department—or the office, rather—of independent living for the disabled. This is an extremely important effort to let handicapped people learn through their own practical experience how they can avoid being dependent on others through practical application of programs and their own initiative. And in the process not only do the handicapped learn how to be. independent but Federal agencies and private citizens who are not handicapped also learn with them. With this office, we've done more for the housing of handicapped people in the last 3 years than had been done in the previous 40 years. We still have a long way to go, but we've already increased funds for handicapped construction housing from $13 million to $99 million.

This increase of more than 700 percent in a short period of time also includes, as you know, congregate housing services. This fall, we will launch a new independent-living demonstration project to expand on what we've already done. This will dramatize how existing Federal programs, that might, in the past, not [have] been focused on this single issue, can be coordinated and utilized more effectively and more efficiently to make independent living possible for more handicapped people.

One of the most fundamental and most cherished rights accorded to all citizens in our society is the right to move freely, yet architectural barriers, as you well know, remain a constant reminder to disabled Americans that our Nation has not completely opened its doors to all of our citizens. We cannot rebuild a nation overnight which ignored this problem for generations, but we can provide access to all public buildings. By October of this year, construction will be underway in virtually all Federal buildings to make them accessible to handicapped people.

I was honored to have sponsored the first White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals and to have participated in it with many of you assembled in this room today. And I'm proud that Dr. Howard Rusk will chair the National Council on the Handicapped. I will name other remaining members of this Council later on today.

Dr. Rusk will provide strong leadership in this important step as he advises with me and my administration and others on issues affecting handicapped persons. If you have good ideas on how we might do a better job, be sure to let those ideas come through him to me and to be utilized throughout our Nation.

Above all, in considering problems of the handicapped, every adult citizen should be able to participate in the most basic of civil rights, and that is voting. You and I must continue to encourage State and local and party officials to increase their efforts to make polling places accessible and to provide alternate registration and voting methods to assure greater opportunity for political participation by handicapped citizens who must stay in their homes.

For many handicapped Americans, transportation is the first barrier to participation in other activities. The Department of Transportation is now working to ensure that newly purchased equipment in the Nation's public transportation systems will be accessible to all. We will continue to support these efforts and seek new ways, through research, through demonstration, through standards required in bids for sales to achieve greater access for handicapped persons to mass transit.

But physical access is only part of the problem. For the hearing impaired, we've helped to fund the National Captioning Institute. As a result of the Institute's activities, some television programs—two of the major networks and the public television network—are already being captioned, and they will add more hours everyday, so that deaf people, with a special device on their own television set, can have captioned programs to enjoy and to learn.

Many more of these programs and commitments are underway. This project demonstrates the success of joint Federal and private efforts. When such television programming is impractical, I will have my major speeches interpreted in sign language for the hearing impaired. It is not only important that you hear what a President has to say, it's also important that you let the President know, in answer to his speeches, what you think he ought to say next time and ought to do.

Prevention of disease and prevention of disability has been a major priority of my Presidency also. The President's Commission on Mental Health, headed by my wife; the child health assurance program, which gives early diagnosis and treatment and prevention; the mental health systems act, now making its way through the Congress; and the national health plan that needs to be implemented in this country in the future were all designed to prevent illness and to prevent disability and to improve health care once a person becomes ill or disabled.

When I took office, for instance, nearly 35 million young Americans were not immunized against preventable diseases. For a country that helped to rid the entire world of the worst crippler of the young, polio, that was a disgrace to all of us. We immediately set out to correct it, and I'm proud that by last fall, more than 90 percent of American youngsters under 15 were immunized. We're now working as hard as we can on the other 10 percent.

For the future, the new National Institute of Handicapped Research will become the focus of all Federal research into disability. The bringing together of these efforts, which had formerly been scattered all over the Federal Government, will help them to learn from one another, to expend limited funds more effectively, and also to let you know where to go with a special problem or special advice or counsel or encouragement.

One problem has been on my mind lately, and that is spinal cord injuries which are, as you know, a major cause of disability. Between 8,000 and 10,000 new injuries occur every year, mostly to the young. I will launch a major new effort designed to speed the day when permanent spinal injury can be prevented and reversed. We've had remarkable news recently from scientists and medical researchers that if a major spinal injury can be treated very quickly after it occurs, permanent disability can be prevented.

First, we will establish a Federal interagency task force on spinal injury, directed from my office in the White House, which will develop and implement a national strategy for providing better care and for enhancing current Federal spinal research programs. And then, in order to guide the development and the implementation of this national strategy, I will establish a President's Council on Spinal Cord Injury, to serve until our goals are firmly developed and firmly established.

Our Nation was founded 200 years ago to provide freedom and opportunity for every single citizen, not just so individuals can fulfill themselves, but also because our society as a whole needs the full participation of every member. We cannot do without the tremendous talent of our handicapped people. We cannot afford to waste lives that could have been full and useful. We cannot be satisfied with maintaining dependence when independence is possible. And above all, we cannot afford the cost in human suffering.

Over the past 200 years, we have lowered the barriers that originally existed and brought many segments of our people from full participation. We must now bring down the barriers that prevent handicapped Americans from full participation, for just as all of us have benefited from the increased participation of minorities and women in the past two decades, all Americans will benefit from the full participation of handicapped people in the years to come.

We cannot rebuild our society overnight, but we can make sure, case-by-case, event-by-event, person-by-person, program-by-program, that the right choices for the handicapped are made. Working together, we can make certain that the 1980's will be the decade in which the handicapped will at last enter and merge completely with the mainstream of a wonderful American life.

This will, of course, be of great benefit to you and those whom you love and those whom you represent here in this important meeting. But the realization of the full potential of the handicapped Americans will also be of great benefit to our Nation.

Thank you very much. I love you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:03 a.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Annual Meeting of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249863

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