Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NAMI Visits the White House for Americans with Disabilities Act Anniversary

By Glenn Koons, NAMI Pennsylvania

Last week I joined Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI’s executive director, Keris Myrick and Mike Weaver, NAMI national board members, and John Coon, NAMI consumer council representative, at the White House to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Glenn Koons and actress Marlee Matlin
at the White House

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, including those living with mental illness, in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a huge step in the civil rights movement and consumer advocacy! Although it has taken the past 20 years for some places to come "up to speed" on the regulations and amendments included in the ADA, that is happening all over the United States.

I started my consumer advocacy and doing presentations after being trained in the Social Security Work Incentives, i.e. PASS program, Ticket to Work. I spread the word about these things, which no one really knew much about, even though they are included in the Red Book that the Social Security Administration puts out every year. If I had known about these things earlier and/or the law was enacted earlier, it would have saved me about 10 years of depression and not knowing what I was going to do with myself and my future!

To start our day, Keris and I travelled to Statuary Hall in the Capitol via the “tram car,” which is usually just for members of Congress and office staff. No pictures allowed there!

Following an anniversary reception hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, we went to the House Gallery to hear live proceedings. I was able to see Patrick Kennedy, who was recently honored with NAMI’s Distinguished Service Award, speaking on the floor. I tried to get his attention—but I was cautioned and told to settle down!

Our next stop was the White House.

Before the ADA celebration began, we had an opportunity to speak with others from the disability community and enjoyed a performance by the Marine Corps band before other entertainers took the stage.

Marlee Matlin, an Academy award-winning actress, shared a personal poetry reading in sign language with a spoken word interpreter. Nathaniel Ayers, the street musician living with schizophrenia who inspired The Soloist book and film, played the violin and trumpet for the audience. Patti LaBelle, who has diabetes, belted out several tunes and closed with a personal rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

President Obama followed with an inspiring speech and signed an executive order which will make the federal government the model employer for persons with disabilities! You can watch video from the celebration here.

After his signing, he greeted those in the front, so I did not get a chance to meet him personally, but we were pretty close.

Afterwards, we stayed for a bit to do some more networking and I got to meet Marlee Matlin! I had met Nathaniel last year at the NAMI national conference in San Francisco and I have met Patti LaBelle several times in her hometown of Philadelphia.

All in all, this was a great event and I was proud and honored to be representing NAMI!

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