Building a New Inclusive Society...


root - Posted on 19 August 2002

Barbara Lee's speech at the Annual Dinner of the Developmental Disabilities Council of Contra Costa County

by Barbara Lee

In the last fifty years, we have seen many of society*s barriers come down.
The color line and the glass ceiling haven*t disappeared, but they are
diminished. We have enacted important laws that helped stretch the social
safety net, such as Medicare and Medicaid. The Americans with Disabilities
Act marked a landmark victory in the struggle for access and equal
opportunity.

But there are still too many obstacles blocking full inclusion in American life
for those with developmental disabilities and their families.

Inclusion embraces both independence and integration. The work you all do
to advance inclusion is so important because it is so fundamental: it*s about
making people*s lives better.

It*s about improving schools and opening classrooms. It*s about jobs. It*s
about family support. It*s about the recreation and socialization
opportunities that enrich life. It*s about access to comprehensive healthcare
and the elimination of artificial boundaries that say that illnesses of the mind
are uninsurable.

Life can throw you curves. But everybody has a right to stand at the plate
and take their swings. Everybody deserves to get in the game.

Too many people, though, are still shut out. Access and integration are
justly considered civil rights issues.

Furthermore, access and integration for everyone is in all our interests. We
all benefit when people enter our workforce and join our economy, and we
all lose when they are shut out. Isolation carries heavy economic, social, and
psychological costs.

We can do more at the federal level to help. We should pass Medicaid
reform so that those facing long-term disabilities have a greater element of
choice in their treatment and so they can utilize community resources and
maintain their independence and dignity at home. I am a cosponsor of this
bill, and I believe we need to maximize choice rather than bureaucracy.

We*ve made some progress. Two years ago, Congress passed the
Developmental Disabilities Act to provide grant money to state and
nonprofit community programs.

But Congress hasn*t provided full funding for the Act, and in this year*s
budget, the President didn*t request any money at all for family support
services. I hope this is not an example of compassionate conservatism.

Family support, as all of you are all too aware, is crucial. It needs to be part
of a network of services that promise inclusion rather than isolation.

The federal government should also fulfill its promises to fund special
education, which currently represents a crushing financial burden for many
school districts. We must fully fund I.D.E.A.

Integration and inclusion should be hallmarks of that educational effort. We
cannot let special education remain a bastion of legal segregation.

Healthcare is also a critical component of our federal effort. Healthcare is
not a luxury. It should be a matter of human rights, not corporate profits.

Forty-four million Americans have no health insurance. That*s a national
tragedy. Medicare does not cover prescription drugs; neither do a growing
number of health plans in California and nationwide.

Improving healthcare also demands increasing our investment in research.

We need to understand why autism rates are climbing, for example, and
what we can do about it.

We need to understand the relationship between toxins in our environment
and the impact on our bodies and our brains.

Tackling this problem requires real enforcement of the Clean Air Act and
other federal environmental laws and demands a renewed investment in
scientific research. Children are especially vulnerable, and these problems
cannot wait.

These issues are not negotiable, they are fundamental to our personal and
national well being.

Developmental disabilities have to be part of this agenda, and inclusion must
be our ultimate goal.

These issues represent national challenges, but they are also local realities. It
is at the community level where many of the daily struggles for inclusion will
be won.

Here in the East Bay, we are still wrestling with these questions, but also
making advances.

The Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley will be one such advance as a center
of learning but also a center of economic and social vitality and accessibility.
In Washington, I will continue to work to secure funding for the Center*s
construction because I understand how big a difference it will make in
people*s lives.

It will stand as a fine tribute to a great man who refused to let barriers get in
his way. It wasn*t enough for Ed himself to make it; he then proceeded to
spend much of his life tearing those barriers down so they wouldn*t impede
the progress of others.

And your work at the Councils is in this spirit. Your coordination of
resources among the regional service providers, your advocacy, and your
education efforts are vital to this community.

We have come a long way in our quest for accessibility, independence, and
inclusion, but we still have a ways to go. I have enormous respect for all of
you who are leading this effort.

Let me leave you with the words of Supreme Court Justice William
Brennan, who wrote "that society*s accumulated myths and fears about
disability and disease are as handicapping as are the physical limitations that
flow from actual impairment."

I would extend his analysis to developmental disabilities as well. With each
and every victory you achieve, with every barrier that you tear down, you
also tear down another myth, another misunderstanding about disabilities.

Thank you for your good work and thank you for inviting me here tonight.

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