Rep. Tony Coelho Testifies at the 1988 ADA Hearings

(Video is open-captioned)

And so it is time that out government recognized our abilities and gave us the dignity to do what we can do. As a young man, I developed seizures, later diagnosed as epilepsy.

For many years, for five years, as I had my seizures on a regular basis, I did not know what they were. I went to every doctor that you could think of. I also went to three witch doctors, because i was supposedly possessed by the devil. My Republican colleagues think i am, but other believed i was.

And as I went to college, I was an achiever. I got outstanding grades in high school, outstanding grades in college, student body president in high school and college, I was outstanding senior in college. I was sought after by different businesses and groups to be involved in their activities and be employed by them. And I had decided that I wanted to be an attorney.

In my senior year I changed my mind. I decided I wanted to become a Catholic priest. And as I graduated with honors, I then had a physical exam in order to enter the seminary. The physical exam pointed out that the seizures I'd been having for five years meant that I had epilepsy. I always remember very well what happened, and that I walked to the doctor's office from my car, sat in the doctor's office, was told about my epilepsy, walked back to my car, got back in my car, and drove back to my fraternity house, and i was the same exact person, but only in my own mind, because the world around me changed.

My doctor had to notify the legal authorities of my epilepsy. My church was notified and immediately I was not able to become a Catholic priest. Because my church did not, at the time, permit epileptics to be priests. My driver's license was taken away, my insurance was taken away. Every job application has the word epilepsy on it and I marked it because I was not going to lie. And I couldn't get a job. My parents refused to accept my epilepsy. I became suicidal and drunk by noon. And the only reason is… because I hadn't changed as a person… the only reason is that the world had changed around me.

And the light had been turned off around me, the light of opportunity, the light of hope, and not until a priest friend of mine turned me over to a man of hope by the name of Bob Hope did the light get lit again. And I'm here today, serving in the capacity that I serve, because some people believed. Not because my government protected me, not because my government protected my basic civil rights.

So I'm a major advocate of this bill because i want to make sure that other young people, as they're looking for hope, as they believe that the system should work for them, have that hope, have that opportunity. What happened at Gallaudet University as not only an inspiration, I'm sure, to the hearing-impaired. What happened at Gallaudet University was an inspiration to all of us with disabilities, in that if we ourselves believe in ourselves and are willing to stand up we can make a difference.

That's what this bill is all about. Thirty six million Americans deciding it's time to stand up for ourselves to make a difference. To say we want our basic civil rights also. We deserve it. And give us an opportunity to do what we can do. Don't keep telling us what we can't do. I thank my colleagues.