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Obama Gives Disabled a Voice in Victory Speech

November 5 2008 | by

President Obama

Americans with disabilities were given a voice last night with President-elect Obama’s victory speech in Chicago. “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer…It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled — Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America.” By including the disabled as a specific group, Obama has sent a message that he will put disability issues on the map. No other president of our time has done this before, not even Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president, who struggled with an illness that left him paralyzed from the waist down. In order to win the re-election, FDR believed he had to convince Americans that he was getting better; he wore iron braces and leaned on his sons or aides in public, but used a wheelchair in private. Today is a new day for Americans with disabilities, and the opportunities are vast. Take employment: Of the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities, only 38% are employed, vs. 78% of those without disabilities, which I wrote in a Wall Street Journal article. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who are returning home with severed limbs and brain injuries need rehabilitation. Children who are being diagnosed with special needs require a strengthened education plan. An aging population that can benefit from new technologies such as hearing aids needs better healthcare options. Obama has made it clear throughout his campaign that his vision for America includes the needs of the disabled, the nation’s largest minority group. His task in 2009 will be to listen to these issues and find comprehensive solutions that help all Americans — disabled or not disabled. A rising tide lifts all boats.

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