Senator Letter — Hillary Rodham Clinton

Circa 2007


Dear ABILITY Magazine Readers,

My passion for working on behalf of people with disabilities stems from an experience very early in my professional career when I worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. Back then, I was asked to go door to door in New Bedford, MA, to help identify the source of a troubling discrepancy—many children living in the community were not enrolled in school.

Knocking on doors, I found children who weren’t in school because of physical disabilities such as blindness and deafness. One afternoon, on the small back porch of her family’s home, I met a girl in a wheelchair who told me how much she wanted to go to school. She believed she couldn’t go because she couldn’t walk. It was an experience I’ll never forget: Children with a strong desire to learn and grow, but who were invisible in their own communities, their potential untapped.

We submitted the results of our door-to-door survey to Congress. Two years later, at the urging of the Children’s Defense Fund and other advocates, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, mandating that children with physical, emotional, and learning disabilities be educated in the public school system. Today, that law is known as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act or IDEA.

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What I learned through that experience and so many others since is simple: Every person deserves the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, and we all have a role to play in making that possible. As parents, teachers, caretakers, sons, daughters, public officials and private citizens, it is incumbent upon all of us to help build a society that rewards and values the contributions of each of its members. My work in New Bedford cemented my belief that it takes a village to raise a child, and I have only become more convinced of that over the years.

That is at the heart of my efforts in the Senate. I have worked hard to improve IDEA and to fight for full funding so that schools have the resources they need to help teach students with special needs. I supported efforts to recruit new special education teachers and to better prepare general education teachers to work with children who have special needs. I fought to improve access to instructional materials, such as books in Braille, with large text, and in other formats. I fought to increase funding for the vocational rehabilitation program and to stop efforts to undercut this valuable resource for individuals with disabilities who are trying to overcome barriers to employment.

I co-sponsored the Community Choice Act, which will provide individuals with disabilities with greater access to home-and community-based services. For those living with severe disabilities and the elderly, access to home-based care can mean the difference between living independently and being forced into an institution. I also fought to phase out the waiting period for individuals with disabilities to become eligible for Medicare, and pass my Lifespan Respite Care Act, which approved almost $300 million in grants to increase the ability of respite care for family caregivers.

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As President, I will restore the kind of leadership that understands and welcomes the contributions of individuals with disabilities, and supports policies that helps all Americans achieve their dreams. I will work to pass the ADA Restoration Act, which would restore the promise of the ADA by reversing several Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed the scope of that landmark civil rights legislation. I will implement a bold agenda to expand economic opportunities for all individuals with disabilities.

Today, Americans with disabilities have half the employment rate and double the poverty rate of individuals who do not have disabilities. Even individuals with disabilities who graduated from college work at only two-thirds the rate of others. That’s wrong, and it should be a call to action. That is why I have proposed that we provide more technical assistance for employers, double funding for loans that help individuals afford the tools to help them do their jobs, and create a $1,000 tax credit for workers with disabilities, who often face additional costs that amount to an unfair tax. And that’s why I was proud to pass through the Senate a provision to allow individuals to discharge their student loans if they become disabled for more than five years.

I would also continue the efforts begun in the Clinton Administration to reduce disincentives to work. People with disabilities can lose their Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medicaid benefits when they work even a little. That is why we enacted the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act. But there is more to be done; as President, I will ensure that the federal government sets the bar high with a goal of hiring 100,000 qualified employees with disabilities over five years.

When I think about all we can achieve, I reflect on the people I have met who have inspired me, and instilled in me the importance of action on behalf of Americans with disabilities. I think of that girl in New Bedford who longed to go to school but felt her wheelchair was not a tool to help her, but a limit to her potential. I think of parents I have met across our country who have become not only caretakers, but advocates on behalf of a son or daughter with autism spectrum disorder, a physical disability or a learning disorder.

I believe we can provide greater opportunities to help every American living with a disability to achieve their dreams. In 35 years of public service, that is what I have fought for, and that is what I will continue to fight for in the future.


Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

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