November 28, 1983

The Vice President and I are very happy to welcome all of you here to the White House.

Just a few minutes ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the men and women who are sharing the platform with us this morning. And this fine group has recently been named the Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employees of the Year. And we're proud that they're part of the Federal Government's team.

I also want to thank those Members of Congress who are here today, some of whom returned from their districts because of the importance of this ceremony.

All of you in this room know that courage, patience, and hard work go a long way, and no one knows it better than my Press Secretary, Jim Brady. Jim has inspired people everywhere and continues to do so. And, Jim, we're delighted that you could take part in today's ceremony.

In a few minutes, I'll sign a proclamation designating 1983 through 1982 [1992] the National Decade of Disabled Persons. Proclamations can summon good people to action and light the path of hope. And this proclamation, we think, will do both.

The 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons and the 1982 National Year of Disabled Persons stimulated new activity to improve the lives of our disabled Americans. Consciousness was raised, new partnerships formed, barriers reduced, and opportunities increased. Our own efforts in the White House, for example, have helped generate a number of private projects involving transportation, elementary school tutoring, eye diagnosis, and surgery. But we can't rest on past success. The task before us is to maintain our momentum and to do more.

Today I'm establishing a clear national goal. Let us increase the economic independence of every disabled American and let us begin today.

The disabled want what all of us want: the opportunity to contribute to our communities, to use our creativity, and to go as far as our God-given talents will take us. We see remarkable achievements in medicine, technology, education, rehabilitation, and in preventive medicine. Voluntary efforts by the private sector help in a thousand ways. America is a caring society, but too often, Federal programs discourage full participation by society. Outmoded attitudes and practices that foster dependence are still with us. They are unjust, unwanted, and nonproductive. Paternalism is the wrong answer.

The maze of Federal programs complicates matters even more. Thirty-two Federal agencies fund handicapped research. There are at least 42 separate Federal programs specifically targeted toward the handicapped population with an annual budget in excess of $36 billion. More than a hundred other programs provide handicapped services and support. Now, many good things are being done, and Federal programs help in countless ways. But the patchwork quilt of existing policies and programs can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Programs overlap, they work at cross purposes, and worst of all, they don't always point toward independence and jobs. So, we have a lot of work to do, and this work will be done.

Since last April, a White House working group on handicapped policy has been looking at ways to better translate our goals of economic independence into an agenda for action. And that agenda is now underway. The administration's review of the regulations implementing Public Law 94 - 142, the Education of All Handicapped Children's Act, has been completed. The regulations are fine the way they are. No changes will be made, and the program will be protected in its present form.

Now, today, I'm also announcing three new initiatives. We believe that each will result in far better coordination and consistency among Federal programs.

The Department of Health and Human Services will direct a program to strengthen private sector job opportunities. And this initiative will feature a new job cataloging service and a national campaign to coordinate and stimulate employment possibilities for the severely disabled.

Help is also needed to assist in the transition from special education to community integration and job placement. The Departments of Education and Health and Human Services have established a program to assist special education students during this transition.

And finally we're putting together a national information and referral system. The handicapped, their families, and physicians need to be able to cut through the maze of public and private services and gain timely access to information and programs. This new network, managed by the private sector, will provide this badly needed service.

Now, I know these programs are only a beginning, but we believe equal opportunity, equal access, and greater economic independence must be more than slogans. Whenever government puts welfare and charity before the opportunity for jobs, it misses the mark. By returning to our traditional values of self-reliance, human dignity, and independence, we can find the solution together. We can help replace chaos with order in Federal programs, and we can promote opportunity and offer the promise of sharing the joys and responsibilities of community life.

I believe we can make this dream come true. You may face limitations, but not one of you here today lacks the courage, the will, or the heart to do what others say cannot be done.

There's a young lady with us today who's demonstrated that so well. Jennifer Boatman has spinal bifida, a serious malformation of the spine. Well, Jennifer's handicap didn't stop her from saving the life of a 5-year-old boy. When Jennifer saw young Joshua Mikesell tumbling through a whitewater stretch of the North Umpqua River in southwestern Oregon, she didn't hesitate one second. She jumped into the swift mountain stream, swam to the boy, and pulled him to the river bank. Joshua's father called it a miracle.

It's also the story of the courage and capability of America's disabled. And for all of us it's the ultimate expression of love. Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for a friend.

You know, someone has said that a hero is no braver than any other person. He or she is just braver 5 minutes longer. [Laughter] Well, Jennifer, that's you, and it makes us all proud and thankful. Your courage, your compassion, and your commitment to America's disabled opened the way to a life of quality for all people.

Let us rededicate ourselves to the tasks ahead. Let the spirit of the National Decade of Disabled Persons capture our imagination. In partnership between the public and private sector, among national, State, and local organizations, and between the disabled and the abled we can win the battle for dignity, equality, and increased economic opportunity for all Americans.

And now I shall go sign the proclamation. And God bless all of you; thank all of you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.