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National Council on Independent Living Awards

June 13, 2012
Washington, DC

It is an honor to receive an award named after Frank Harkin.

At a young age, Frank had a setback and he could have felt sorry for himself or used it as an excuse. Instead, it made him stronger and led him to be a champion for people with disabilities.  He changed countless lives -- not just as an advocate, but through his life’s example. And he inspired countless others to join his cause.

Of course you were chief among them Tom, bringing the fight to Congress. You have been tireless in your work to protect the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. As long as you are in the Senate, Americans with disabilities know they have a voice there.

You led the efforts in Congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – a law that has literally changed America’s landscape by requiring accessible buildings and transportation, and workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. But even more than that -- the law was a clear statement that our nation is strongest when all of its citizens have an equal chance to participate and contribute.

As the law put it, “the surest path to America's continued vitality, strength and vibrancy is through the full realization of the contributions of all of its citizens.”

The Obama Administration is committed to following that path. Over the last three years, we have taken on an ambitious agenda to support people with disabilities living in their homes and fully participating in their communities.

But we haven’t done it alone. It’s been leaders like Tom in the Senate. And it’s been leaders like all of you here today, from across the country, who have helped make it a reality.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, soon no one searching for health coverage will be discriminated against because of a pre-existing health condition or disability.

Lifetime coverage limits are now prohibited, and the law creates improved options for long-term services and supports in the community.  

With your help, we have extended and enhanced the Money Follows the Person program, which supports people with disabilities to transition from institutional to community settings with a far better quality of life.

43 states and the District of Columbia participate in the program. And more than 20,000 people have already transitioned out of institutions with its support.  Now the health care law is adding 5 more years and $2.25 billion to expand and build on that success.

And, thanks to your tireless work on the Community First Choice option, more people who need personal attendant services and supports will soon get the help they need to achieve or maintain independence in their homes and communities.

In support of these initiatives and more, we just recently established a new Administration for Community Living at the Department of Health and Human Services. Our goal is to give seniors and people with disabilities the coordinated resources and attention they need.    

Efforts like these have the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands more Americans. Thanks to your leadership, they will be able to live in their community surrounded by their friends and family as they prefer to do.

Thank you all for this very special honor. I am proud of how far we’ve come. But I know there is more to be done. And I look forward to working hard and building on our progress together.