Debbie Robinson Meets the President

Debbie arrived at the White House as part of a disability leader’s meeting with the President on September 10th, 1997. She was helped through many security checks and into the White House. When she reached the meeting room, it was startling to see they were meeting in the President’s Cabinet Room. Note cards with everyone’s name were laid out on the huge wooden conference table and there was Debbie’s name right next to the Presidents. Other disability leaders were kidding Debbie about sitting in the chair beside the President. They called it being in the hot seat.

The President arrived and shook hands with all at the table. He introduced those on his cabinet with disabilities, Bob Williams and Judy Heumann. He brought someone from employment and social security. The President started off this historic meeting by talking about the importance of the ADA and the new CASA bill. He told the dozen guests that he needed to hear from the grassroots and to have everyone at the table. He asked to hear from everyone in the room and how important it was to have the cross-disability groups involved. He realized and appreciated the hard work everyone at the table was doing and how he really supported the ADA and the IDEA.

After the President finished speaking, he asked Justin Dart to lead off the meeting. Justin spoke his usual moving and inspiring words about how President Clinton is the only President who has ever met directly with people with disabilities who represent the grassroots. Justin thanked the President for hiring people with disabilities in high level positions. Justin introduced Fred Fay as the first speaker. Fred was unable to attend due to his disability and participated by telephone from his home in Boston.

Fred emphasized that this is a civil rights movement and that today=s discussion would cover four areas that the ADA has really helped: 1) Transportation; 2) Jobs; 3) Housing and 4) Education.

After Fred, Debbie spoke her allotted one minute. She felt very nervous. Much of what she had intended to say, the President had covered in his opening remarks. She was sitting directly beside the President and that made her even more nervous. Debbie spoke about how important the ADA was. It gave us our civil rights and has improved transportation and jobs and more importantly given people the feeling like they have rights. “We need your support, Mr. President.” Debbie finished by asking the President for his support in getting people with disabilities out of institutions and into the community. “Mr President, you need to speak more about these issues. When you give talks on TV, you don’t talk about disability issues. You need to bring this up more to the public. We need to hear your voice supporting us and the ADA.” The President said, “you are right, I need to do more on that.”

Paul Marshon spoke about the SSI cutoffs for children. He spoke against people being in institutions. Paul said that there should not be any institutions anywhere. He said that New Hampshire, Rhode Island and other states have closed all their institutions successfully. People’s civil rights are being violated. People’s voices have not been heard.

Nancy Diehl brought up people being forced to live in nursing homes and all this money being wasted and no money being available for living in the community and how the money needs to follow the person. Nancy talked as a parent and how her child was denied education and how everybody should have the right for education. The President said that people should be free to follow the full potential of their lives. Bob Kafka discussed the CASA bill and getting people out of nursing homes.

The need for jobs and all the regulations standing in the way was raised by Tony Coehlo. Judy Heumann brought up the problems of social security standing in the way of employment. Becky Ogle stressed how important all these issues are to people becoming independent and asked the President and Al Gore for their help. Bob Kafka said we could speak to these issues until we are blue in the face but nobody listens and we need you to bring these issues to the fore. The President said he supported equal rights, equal chances and the right to live in the community. Marca asked the President for his backing and support as all the advocates continued their work but needed him to speak out more on the issues.

The President closed by saying how much he appreciated everyone coming to the White House and bringing him these issues. He said he gets isolated in the White House and it’s hard to know what the real issues are in the community. He asked for everyone to keep up their good work and to work with his disability team including Bob Williams and Judy Heumann.

Justin met the President at the door and told the President, “Mr. President, only in America could a meeting like this occur.” The President concurred and shook hands with all around as he and Vice President Al Gore disappeared out the door.

Attending:Bob Williams (Administration on Developmental Disabilities), Bob Kafka (ADAPT), Judy Heumann (Health and Human Services), Justin Dart, Marca Bristo (National Council on Disability), Fred Fay (by telephone), Nancy Diehl (Memphis, Tennessee), Paul Marshon (ARC), Becky Ogle, Tony Coehlo, Paul Edwards (National Council for the Blind), John Herper and Mike Oxford (ADAPT).

Speech by Debbie Robinson presented to President Clinton, 9/10/97

Thank you Mr. President for having us here and listening to our issues.People with disabilities now have a civil rights movement. It’s made a difference in lots of people with disabilities lives. People are living independent lives now.Jobs – more people having job opportunity, not as much as we want it to be but much more than years ago they wouldn’t have even looked at people with disabilities.Transportation-paratransit is now in other counties. There are lifts on buses. We are now more accepted on buses. The ADA has made people more independent to take buses on their own with the bus lifts, ADA has made it possible for us to work with policy makers in our local transportation company. It’s made it easier for people to travel.Accessible housing – the ADA has made more housing and supports for people to live in the community.More choices to fight for equal justice, get lawyers, help fight for their rights if they are mistreated. People can’t be pushed around now. We trying to use the ADA to get people out of institutions.Mr. President – Please keep continuing supporting our civil rights movement.