Thank-you, Andy, for accepting this award recognizing the contributions of my late husband, Evan J. Kemp, Jr. You are due even more thanks for the years spent building The AAPD into a vital organization run by and serving people with disabilities. I hope it was not too awkward that I just made you thank yourself.
I also want to thank Commissioner Feldblum for leading EEOC’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of ADA. 20 years ago, 3 people essential to the passage of the ADA were denied entrance to the largest White House signing ceremony in history. Chai Feldblum had worked tirelessly on crafting the ADA and shepherding the bill to passage yet she, along with Ralf Neas and Senator Lowell Weicker, were purposely excluded.
So you can imagine my delight when President Obama named her Commissioner. I heard it on the news and literally stopped and did a little dance. Everything I know about Commissioner Feldblum’s work stands for the full societal inclusion of all minorities. She’s one of the brightest lights in President Obama’s auspicious administration.
Today my deepest gratitude goes out to the thousands of conscientious members of the staff at EEOC locations throughout the nation. They are on the frontlines for insuring that the ADA and each civil rights law concerned with employment is implemented on a day to day basis.
I confess that when Evan was appointed Chair of EEOC, I had a stereotype about federal workers in secure jobs taking home paychecks and doing little. Then I met many of you in Washington and travelled with Evan to offices all over the country. You blew my stereotype out of the water.
I met over a thousand of you who were dedicated to your work and regularly went the extra mile. Why? Because you believed that equal employment opportunity meant was just and achievable. You believed people in this country had the right to employment free of discrimination based on race, sex, age or disability. Maybe soon we can add sexual identity to that list.
I’m grateful that EEOC is recognizing Evan for his work in insuring that the regulations for the ADA were issued in a timely manner and then implemented at your agency. Evan Kemp’s work in the disability rights field is rarely noted and recognized for two reasons. One is that he was a Republican and most folks in the civil rights arena don’t much cotton to Republicans. He came from a long line of Democrats and was a fiscal conservative. So in the early 1980’s several disability rights leaders convinced him to change parties so he could garner Republican support for civil rights for people with disabilities. He took to the cause with characteristic Kemp gusto and got his dear friend C. Boyden Gray to join him. Boyden and Evan convinced another key Republican to support the ADA: President George H.W. Bush.
When I first joined Evan in Washington, he said, “You can accomplish a lot in this city if you don’t care about taking credit.” That is the second reason his work in disability is rarely noted. He was not out front jockeying for position and credit; he stayed in the background, putting people together, placing articles in the media, and working strategically.
He was one of the most energetic and radical “do-ers” and thinkers and I ever met. He took out all personal and political stops so people with disabilities, and all excluded groups in society, would come to the starting gates equally and never again suffer the bonds of paternalism.
Twenty years after the signing of ADA and 46 years after the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, we still have miles to go before we see justice in employment and other areas rife with discrimination. But there are some laws in place and soon activists will make sure laws will cover remaining excluded groups.
We have you and your dedicated counterparts in other agencies to see that those laws are enforced.
As the years pass, I find great hope in that.