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May 2, 2014 marked the end of my service as a Member of the National Council on Disability appointed by President Barack Obama. Though no longer a public servant, I will never cease to work for the day when every American with a disability gets to experience the same gratitude that I felt on the day in 1998 when, for the first time, I got to be not only a recipient of government services, but that most awesome of American title’s which is “taxpayer.” (My first paycheck, like so many of our young people was from Jewish summer camp).
I still receive government services, and only at the end of my life will someone get to calculate the irrelevant question of whether or not my ultimate money paid in meets or exceeds the money paid out. That day, however, decisively demonstrated that the world would recognize and compensate my talents, and that I could contribute not only with my good works but also by paying my fair share. It is this dignity for which I will continue to fight. And it is a fight with many components.
I will add my private voice to NCD’s public voice that sheltered workshops and sub-minimum wage become a thing of the past, and that innovative vocational rehabilitation and supported employment allow all Americans with disabilities to find meaningful opportunities to add their talents to the American workforce and the American economy.
I will continue to raise my voice so that my new home state, Massachusetts, will one day not be the only state where Americans with disabilities need not artificially limit their income and assets in order to receive the personal care services that they need to work and live, but rather that in all states people with disabilities will have the opportunity to achieve and contribute to their utmost, with public support for those things that very few can afford on private resources, such as personal and nursing care.
I will continue to raise my voice to see that people with disabilities are included in whatever communities they choose, included in our neighborhoods and our schools and universities, included in our churches and synagogues, included in our places of public accommodation and, though the law cannot so mandate, in all of our private associations. Let us hope to see the day in our lifetimes when we are truly made welcome anywhere we choose to be.
I will continue to raise my voice for the basic idea that Health Care for all should be a right and not a privilege, a right no more dependent on ethnic or socioeconomic status than on pre-existing conditions, because this must be a prerequisite for a just society in a nation with resources as great as our own. I leave government today, but know that the banner once taken up cannot be put down until we are indeed guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and we can truly say that there is liberty and justice for all.
I believe very strongly in the above words, and I seek those of you who are willing as allies. Jewish tradition teaches that it is not upon us to finish the work, but nor are we free to abstain from it. One of the most important elements of this teaching in my mind is the recognition that there is only so much that any one person can do in advancement of a massive goal. Alone, there is little I could do to affect the goals articulated above. There may be little that you can do. But if we each do our little part, just maybe our goal will be achieved. Any one of these issues could be a pivotal change in the life of someone with a disability, and your part, or mine, could be just what they need. Further, I have not articulated the whole of the work. I believe strongly in the items I have outlined, but I believe even more strongly in the call to action. We need to advance the conversation on disability in this country, and so I urge each of you to do something, whether on the issues of outlined or on some other, so the day be not far when there is liberty and justice for all.