Joint House/Senate Hearings on the ADA

Hearing on discrimination on the basis of disability. (This video is open-captioned.)

Sen. Lowell Weicker: This is a… I'll correct my English. An historic occasion. The time has come to end all discrimination in whatever form.

Rep. Major Owens: For some of us, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988 represents the next step in the American civil right movement. This legislation grants full rights to Americans with disabilities. And moves our great nation from a respectable position of official compassion for those with impairments to a more laudable position of empowering disabled Americans.

Sen. Tom Harkin: People with disabilities like racial and ethnic minorities, women are entitled to obtain a job in a restaurant or hotel, ride a bus, listen to and watch the TV, use the telephone, and use public services free from invidious discrimination. And free from policies that exclude them solely on the basis of their disability. Every American must be guaranteed genuine opportunities to live their lives to the maximum of their potential.

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in areas of employment, public accommodations, transportation, communications, and public services. It's my expectation that this legislation will become the law of the land during the 101st congress. However the road to enactment will be filled with potholes and roadblocks. Bit if we stick together as a community and we work with groups representing employers in the hotel, restaurant, communications, and transportation industries, I believe we can succeed.

Sen. Ted Kennedy: I think as you listen to those who have spoken today, you realize there probably hasn't been a family in the country that hasn't been touched by some form of physical or mental challenge. You've heard some statements today, very moving statement of members of the family. That's been true in the Kennedy family as well. A sister who is retarded, a son, my own son, who's lost a limb to cancer. And I bet if go across this country, there really isn't a member of a family or an extended family that hasn't been touched.

Rep. Tony Coelho: And so it is time that our government, recognize our abilities and give 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 others believed I was.

As I went to college, I was an achiever. I got outstanding grades in high school, and outstanding grades in college. Student body president in high school Student body president in college. I was an outstanding senior in college. I was sought after by different businesses and groups to be involved with their activities and be employed by them. 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 these seizures that 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 parent 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… only reason is, is that the world around me had changed, and the light had been turned off, 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 was 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 decided it's time for us to stand up for ourselves to make a difference, to say that we want our basic civil rights also. We deserve it. Give us an opportunity to do what we can do. don't keep telling us what we can't do. I thank my colleagues.


Sandra Perrino: On behalf of Thirty six million citizens, I ask you to keep in mind that for decades disabled people have been waiting. Martin Luther King had a dream. We have a vision. Dr. King dreamed of an America where a person is judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. ADA's vision is of an America where persons are judged by their abilities, not their disabilities.

Judith Heumann: Like most other Americans I was born without a disability. When I was one and a half years old, I contracted Polio. Becoming disabled changed my family's life and mine forever. My disability has made me a target for arbitrary and capricious prejudices from many person with whom I come into contact. Over the years experience has taught us that we must be constantly aware of people's attempts to discriminate against us. We must be prepared at every moment to fight this discrimination.

The average American is not, nor should they have to be prepared to fight every day of their life for basic civil rights. All too many incidences of discrimination have gone by undefended because of lack of protection under the law. In the past, disability has been a cause for shame. This forced acceptance of second-class citizenship has stripped us as disabled people, of pride and dignity. This is not the way we as Americans should have to live their lives.

When I was five, my mother proudly pushed my wheelchair to our local public school where I was promptly refused admission because the principal ruled I was "a fire hazard." I was forced to go on home instruction, receiving one hour of education twice a week for three and a half years.

Was this the America of my parents' dreams? My entrance into mainstream society was blocked by discrimination and segregation. Segregation was not only on an institutional level, but also acted as an obstruction to social integration.

As a teenager, I could not travel with my friends on the bus because it was not accessible. At my graduation from high school, the principal attempted to prevent me from accepting an award in a ceremony on-stage simply because I was in a wheelchair.

When I was nineteen, the house mother of my college dormitory refused me admission into the dorm because I was in a wheelchair and needed assistance. When I was twenty one years old I was denied an elementary school teaching credential because of "Paralysis of both lower extremities Sequelae of Poliomyelitis."

At the time I didn't know what Sequelae meant. I went to the dictionary and looked it up and found out that it was "because of." It was obviously because of my disability that I was discriminated against. At the age of twenty five I was told to leave a plane on my return trip to my job here in the U.S. senate because I was flying without an attendant. In 1981, an attempt was made to forcibly remove me and another disabled friend from an auction house because we were "disgusting to look at." In 1983 a manager of a movie theater attempted to keep my disabled friend and myself out of his theater because we could not transfer out of our wheelchairs.

These are only a few examples of discrimination I have faced in my 40-year life. I've successfully fought all of these attempted actions of discriminations through immediate aggressive confrontation or litigation. But this stigma scars for life. Many disabled persons experience discrimination of the same magnitude, but not everyone possesses the intestinal fortitude and has the support of family and friends required to face up to these daily societal barriers.

Sadly, these are not isolated examples true only in the past tense. This is an ongoing social phenomenon which haunts our lives at every minute. I have been told throughout my life to be understanding of these people's actions, "They don't know any better."

Neither I, nor any one of the 42 million other people with disabilities, can wait for the 200 million nondisabled Americans to become educated to the fact that disability does not negate our entitlement to the same constitutional right as they have. Just as other civil rights legislation has made previously sanctioned discrimination illegal, so too will the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988. Outlaw protectivist, paternalistic, ignorant discrimination against all persons with disabilities.

We as disabled persons are here today to insure for the class of disabled Americans the ordinary daily life that nondisabled Americans too often take for granted. The right to ride a bus or a train, the right to any job for which we are qualified, the right to enter any theater, restaurant or public accommodation, the right to purchase a home or rent an apartment, the right to appropriate communication.

Whether you have HIV infection, cancer, heart disease, back problems, Epilepsy, Diabetes, Polio, Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, are deaf of blind, discrimination affects all of us the same. Simply put, we are here today to say that people in our society have been raised with prejudicial attitudes that have resulted in extreme discrimination against the 42 million persons with disabilities in the United States.

Discrimination is intolerable the United States Congress is to be commended for its introduction of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The passage of this monumental legislation will make it clear that our government will no longer allow the largest minority group in the United States to be denied equal opportunity.

You have all heard our testimony today, but you have also been aware of these stories for many years. As elected representatives, you must act without delay to end these reprehensible acts of discrimination. To do any less is immoral. Thank you.


Mary Lindon: At seven years of age, I entered the Jesse Spalding School for the crippled. A venerable institution of the Chicago school system, a segregated institution of the Chicago school system. Which is still in operation today.

When I was there, I was there, and they never even taught me to write. I learned to print after. I taught myself to print after I finished high school with a class rank of nine out of a class of forty five, in 1951. No plans were… no career plans or educational plans were made for me. Because the school and my parents thought I was too disabled to compete.

Interpreter for Greg Hlibok: My name is Greg Hlibok. I am president of the student body government at Gallaudet University. Last March's victory in getting deaf president for Gallaudet was it sent a message to the world. And the focus was on what deaf people can do and not what they cannot do.

Very often discrimination appears on a daily basis in our lives. We face that all the time, every day. We have many experiences of being turned down for jobs, denied promotions. For example, my own deaf brother he had to hire and pay for an interpreter himself so he could interview for a job.

And I've been denied medical treatment because doctors misunderstood us and couldn't communicate with us. They refused to hire a qualified interpreter. We have tried contacting police stations very often. But often, they don't know how to use TTYs, or they don't have it in their stations.

In the past we felt that there is nothing that we could do, that we had to accept this fate. And that was… Those were just false excuses and discrimination. And we put up with this for a very long time. And last March showed that our tolerance and patience had run out. And I said last March that we wanted a deaf president, and we got one. President King's appointment shows that deaf people are capable of holding a responsible job and leading us. He's already proven his success in the past six months.

Now we want our civil rights. Americans with Disabilities Act would give us the legal tools to fight discrimination. Legal rights for women and minorities have already been brought to bear. And now it is time to remove communications barriers and provide reasonable accommodations.

For example, caption, TTYs, qualified interpreters, note takers and visual aids, and these type of things would reduce the communication barriers that we face. It's not simply just accommodations, but we would like to participate equally and to be effective in society not to be ignored. We don't want sympathy, we want support.

Belinda Mason: Until early last year my family and I had an average life near one of America's thousands of average small county towns. We juggled our jobs, our daughter, and our credit card payments. Our pleasures were simple and common; A walk in the woods, A new song on the radio, or a cookout with other young families.

But then my life changed dramatically. While delivering our healthy son, I suffered serious complications, including cardiac arrest and a stroke. Because of massive hemorrhaging, I received numerous transfusions of blood products. One unit was later found HIV positive, and in March of 1987, my own blood first tested positive for antibodies to the HIV virus, the virus that causes AIDS. The average life I once enjoyed has vanished. Since I've been living with HIV, I've learned a terrible truth about America, that it's not a good place to be different or to be ill, in spite of what we teach in government class.

A woman in another part of Kentucky had managed the school's cafeteria for a number of years. Her adult son, who was living in California, became ill with AIDS. The woman went to California to bring her son home so she could care for him. But when she returned she was abruptly fired from her job.

Apparently even the perception that you're associated somehow with HIV, whether or not you have it, is grounds for ill treatment. This has to change. We need a law that will protect all people, even those perceived to be infected simply because they are helping those who are ill.

A man passing through a central Kentucky town was stopped for drunk driving. After he told the arresting officers that he had AIDS, the man's car was driven to a parking lot at the jail. Instead of putting the man in jail the officers locked him inside his car to spend the night. The car was eventually surrounded by sightseers, staring and pointing at the man.

Living with HIV is particularly stressful for people in America's small towns and rural communities. Until we can be counted on to demonstrate fair and equitable treatment legislation like this is essential.

Jade Calegory: When I meet new people, I wish they would talk to me first before they ask what's wrong with me or what happened to me. It makes me feel like my wheelchair is more important that I am. I guess I'm luckier than a lot of other kids with disabilities. I work as an actor.

My movie Mac and Me is out right now. Maybe you've seen it. I like it because it shows that kids with disabilities aren't any different and can do the same things as other kids without disabilities if given a chance. It's the movie to star a kid with a disability, and it's a great family film full of adventures. I even got to do some of my own stunts. I also think Mac and Me is terrific because it shows a kid with a disability giving help instead of just getting help, and nobody tries to cure me or take away my disability by the end of the movie.

Aside from acting, I like racing in my wheelchair. I've won 5K and 10K races. After my mom and I go jogging on the beach back in California. We sometimes take the bus back home, or at least we try to. Most of the busses don't have lifts on them. Some of them… some of the drivers are very rude and get mad if I want to take the bus. Can you believe that? I work and part of my taxes pay for public busses, and then they get mad at me, get mad just because I'm using a wheelchair. I don't think that's fair or right. I'm important too.

If I really have to, I could get out of my wheelchair and climb up the stairs, but I don't think I should have to. Maybe another person using a wheelchair is trying to go to work or school, and they shouldn't have to crawl up the stairs and get dirty. Some… or maybe they can't even get out of their wheelchair by themselves.

Sylvia Piper: Dan, have you had any jobs?

Dan Piper: Oh yes, I worked at Parkview Junior High. And my friends that worked at Parkview Junior High are Bob, Bobby, Dan Piper and Max

Sylvia Piper: Where else have you worked?

Dan Piper: I've worked at Wal-Mart, Hardee's, Odellos and (something)

Sylvia Piper: When you're an adult and you're not going to school anymore, do you want to work?

Dan Piper: Uh-hmm

Sylvia Piper: Where would you like to work when you are an adult and earn some money??

Dan Piper: Let me see. I could make money at a video store.

Sylvia Piper: Dan can work and can live independently in the community with services, but how many doors will be closed to employment and community living when his parent are no longer around to break down those barriers?

Our family has served as effective advocates for Dan. Many children with whom I have contact do not have the luxury of consistent support. The reality is while our advocacy has proven successful; we will soon face the private sector, where there are no assurances. We have invested in Dan's future. The state of Iowa has invested in Dan's future, and the Ankeny Public School District has made an investment in Dan's future.

We feel that he will be denied employment based on disability rather that capability. He has already encountered discrimination with employment.

Senators and Representatives, are we going to allow this investment of time energy, and dollars. Not to mention Dan's ability and quality of life. To cease when he reaches age twenty one? Over a decade ago, the United States Congress enacted pubic law 94142, which guaranteed Dan the right to special education, and 504, to address disabilities in the public sector.

It is now time to expand handicapped anti-discrimination to the private sector. So that Dan's and our visions for his adult life and the lives of many others can finally become a reality.

Lakesha Griffin: My name is Lakesha Griffin from LaFave Alabama. I'm fourteen years old and a 7th grader at the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Alabama. Discrimination is a big word, But I can tell you it is real, and I hope congress will do something about it. I hope to be the first person in my family to go to college. I am worried however, that people would treat me differently because I am blind, black and female.

Some people would think that I cannot be a teacher, but I know I can. I don't need sympathy, I don't need prejudice. I do need a fair chance to get a job and live independently. Discrimination against blind and other disabled people must be eliminated, and the Americans with Disabilities Act will help that happen.

W. Mitchell: But unfortunately, I am one of the lucky ones. Fortunately for me and fortunately for so many others, I had role models when I was growing up of other people in wheelchairs. So I knew you could become successful and be in a wheelchair. I had education and training before I was burned in 1971. And as a result of an insurance settlement, I was able to start a very successful business. And so that when I was paralyzed in 1975, I had wealth and I had income and I had opportunities already available to me.

What about all of those who, because of the absence of transportation or the absence of communication facilities, can't even find the employer or get to the employer to present themselves as a qualified candidate for a job? How do they function in our society? We don't want a handout, we don't want a free ride. We just want to act normal in an amazing situation.

Rep. Tony Coelho: We don't want to be patient anymore. If thirty six million Americans would contact their legislative leaders and urge upon them the need for this legislation, it would be done. That's a tremendous political force. I'm as I've said one of those in the disabled community. I don't think we've done enough of educating my colleagues as to what we want and what we don't want, and that's why I say patience is over with.

Sen. Tom Harkin: We have a long road to go. I'm not going to sit here or stand here and kid you that somehow this thing will get through right away. There are roadblocks and a lot of problems out there. So what it's going to take it's going to take persistence, a lot of persistence on my part, a lot of persistence on your part.

You're the ones who can make this bill happen. You've got to connect up with your friends, families, the different agencies, organizations that you belong to, and you have got to make this your top priority. It's going to be a tough battle. I'm convinced we can do it.

The history of the United States has been a constant evolution of opening more doors, of breaking down barriers, of extending basic human rights to more and more people. Sometimes, we don't always live up to those words that we have in the Declaration of Independence and in our Bill of Rights. But we constantly try to live up to them.

We said that all men and I'm sure they meant all women too, if they were her today, were created equal. And yet for almost 100 years after, we had slavery. We didn't even get the Civil Rights Act until 1964. Women didn't have the right to vote until 1912, wasn't it? 1912, 1913 I should remember that date. But it has been a constant progress towards expanding our concept of basic human rights. But with each one of those hurdles we had to cross, it took a lot of effort, a lot of time. I'm hopeful it won't take that long for this bill.

We've laid the groundwork, we've made the initial steps, and now we just need to take that final step of breaking down the final barrier in our country of discrimination. I guess I'm reminded that when I think about how tough it's going to be, and how much work it's going to take, I'm reminded of Rosa Parks, who got off that bus in Alabama and said she wasn't going to ride in the back of the bus anymore, and she led the bus boycott. As some of you remember at least those of you as old as I am.

I don't know how long that bus boycott went on, but they all walked to work, they walked to their places of employment, and they walked home. Some of them three four five miles a day. Rather than take the buses.

After it was all over with, they broke the back of the bus company and were entitled to sit anywhere they wanted to sit they wanted to on the bus. When it was all over with, someone asked Rosa Parks how she felt. She said, "Well," she said "it's been a long, tough battle, but my feets are tired, but my soul is at rest." Let us work hard so when we finally win this battle, we can all say together and paraphrase Rosa Parks, "Our bodies are tired but our soul's at rest." Thank you.