Congressman Jim Langevin Remarks for Disability Employment Awareness Month

October 4, 2007

Thank you for welcoming me here! I am honored to share this opportunity to observe Disability Employment Awareness Month at the Library of Congress. I am so glad that the Library has chosen to highlight this issue, through exhibits and events like this one. Your efforts go a long way in increasing awareness on Capitol Hill.

I want to begin by sharing a bit of my personal story - what led me to Congress and why the issues of empowerment and accessibility are so important to me.

Growing up in Rhode Island, I dreamed of a career in law enforcement. That hasn't worked out exactly as I had planned, but life seldom does. When I was sixteen, I was accidentally shot while working as a police cadet Explorer Scout. An officer, thinking the gun he was handling wasn't loaded, pulled the trigger to test it. It turned out there was a bullet in the chamber, and that bullet severed my spinal cord. I've been paralyzed ever since.

At first, I was convinced that that gun, and this chair, had ruined my dreams.

But I learned that a badge and a gun aren't the only ways to make a difference. You can also change the world with a ballot... a pen... a creative mind. .

My work in government has flowed from the fundamental idea of personal empowerment. It's about giving people the tools they need to pave their own way. To me, that's the role of government: not to give people a hand out, but a hand up… giving people the tools to pave their own way to success.

What we see here today, as the Library pays tribute to the historic leaders of the disability movement and the everyday heroes in our own schools, workplaces and communities, is an illustration of just how far people can rise above difficult circumstances to achieve great things.

In the 27 years since my own injury, I have seen the disability community make great strides in the areas of employment and community inclusion. The Americans with Disabilities Act helped businesses to see employment of people with disabilities not as charity, but as a civil right.

And across the country, businesses are finally becoming aware that people with disabilities are a real resource for their companies!

Just last month, I participated in a groundbreaking discussion in my home state of Rhode Island. Business leaders from one of the largest employers in the state, Raytheon, and the local disability community gathered at a day-long retreat to discuss strategies for getting people with disabilities back into their communities and into meaningful employment.

These issues can only truly be addressed in a cooperative dialogue between business, government and individuals, and I am proud to represent a state like Rhode Island, which has been very forward thinking.

In recent years, Rhode Island designed a Medicaid Buy-In program, which allows a number of people with disabilities to maintain their state health benefits when they return to work.

In addition to implementing such programs, the local disability community is constantly monitoring the results and reaching out to business leaders and elected officials to find new ways to collaborate.

There is a great deal we can do here in Washington, at the federal level, to support this vision for the future of employment. In addition to supporting flexibility with Medicaid funds for people with disabilities, I am committed to evaluating and improving the Ticket to Work program, which has met with mixed reviews.

I am cosponsoring a bill known as the Community Choice Act, which would encourage states to provide equal access to community attendant services, such as personal care assistants, and other supports for individuals in need of long term services who want to participate in their communities and live at home rather than in a nursing home. Local and national disability advocates have long supported this kind of change in policy, and I will keep pushing in Congress for movement on this initiative.

As a final note, I want to thank you profusely for your efforts in this arena.

I am fortunate to have access to an array supports and services, and I certainly could not do my job without them. But sadly, not everyone has access to the same resources. I know there are millions of people with disabilities across the nation who are stuck in their homes when they could be sitting in a classroom, a boardroom, or with me in Congress. That’s why it is so important that we all take the time to recognize the needs of individuals with disabilities, and the simple ways employers can meet those needs and allow these talented people to achieve the dream of living independently and succeeding in the workplace.

Thank you for helping to build awareness of these critical issues, and for welcoming me here. I look forward to our continued work together.