|October 5, 2008|
Remarks Delivered By
Madam Secretary, thank you for those kind remarks.
It is particularly humbling to have you here today knowing how busy you are. As the longest serving and most consequential Secretary of Labor in modern times, I am deeply honored to work with you to move the issues of meaningful employment for people with disabilities to the forefront of the American agenda.
Deputy Secretary Radzely, thank you for your introduction.
I would also like to thank my colleagues, my friends, and the whole ODEP team for being here to witness this important moment in my life.
But, I particularly want to thank my family for supporting me in my effort to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Pursing my work often creates sacrifices at home. My family has always accepted these sacrifices and their support is my daily strength.
At the Department of Labor we know only too well the importance of work. Work is fundamental to our lives. It helps define us and gives us the opportunity to contribute and to find purpose while paving the way toward our personal goals.
However for many Americans with disabilities meaningful employment is often unreachable. Many are being overlooked for competitive jobs or are being hired for low level jobs that provide little growth or economic reward.
ODEP's responsibility is to change this picture. At ODEP we are collaborating with our Federal and private sector partners to create policies that are universal and practices that are customized for all Americans especially for talented Americans with disabilities.
It is important to note that having people with disabilities in the workplace is more that just valuable to the individual... it's also valuable to businesses and ultimately... it is valuable for America.
I believe that within a generation, people with disabilities in the workplace will trigger one of the greatest advancements in American society since the industrial revolution.
People with disabilities in the workplace are the next great wave of diversity in this country. Their diversity will foster innovations that will produce new products, procedures and systems that will be the exports of tomorrow and will drive our economy and our nation into the future.
But working to employ people with disabilities is not just important to America's economy it is at the very core of who we are as a people.
Equality and independence have been fundamental elements of the American government since its inception. The most repeated phrase from the Declaration of Independence is: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
The founding fathers in drafting the Declaration of Independence set forth the philosophy of this new government- recognizing that every human being has inherent worth bestowed upon them by the Creator, and that equality is a fundamental right.
Although at the time the Declaration was written, the reality was that these protections were only available to white males over 21. But the founders intended that the moral vision and ideals set forth in that document would be realized over time for the benefit of all humanity. Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Our cause is the cause of all mankind..."
In describing the declaration in a speech given in 1857, then Senator Abraham Lincoln noted:
Rather it was Lincoln's opinion that they meant to set a standard maxim for free society, which should be embraced by all, and "constantly looked to and constantly labored for."
Consistent with our founders' intent, the Declaration's universal message of equality has resonated from generation to generations and has taken democracy on a journey around the world. Its words inspired the Gettysburg Address, the abolitionist movement against slavery, women seeking to vote, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the shipyard workers of Gdansk, protestors in the streets of Prague, Chinese students confronting communist tanks in Tiananmen Square, and most recently the purple fingers in Bagdad.
Unfortunately the Declaration's promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness remains somewhat illusive for far too many Americans with disabilities. In pursuing happiness, most of us seek economic stability a good place to live and choices in our daily lives.
People with disabilities want and are entitled to the same things. For far too long, however, fear, unfounded stereotypes, and a lack of belief in the talents of people with disabilities have marginalized them in society and frustrated them in their ability to exercise their inalienable rights.
It is ODEP's responsibility to ensure that the founding father's original intent of equality be restored and that the obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from achieving their human potential be removed. Making good on this fundamental obligation is our duty an investment in America's future honoring our forefathers pledge and consistent with our Creators original intent for all people.
Thank you and God bless you.
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