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National Federation of the Blind Convention

Secretary Ray LaHood

Remarks Prepared for Delivery

National Federation of the Blind Convention

Dallas, Texas

Tuesday July 3, 2012

  • Thank you, Dr. Mauer. I appreciate you organizing this convention and making me a part of this event.
  • And thank you to John Pare for keeping me updated on the great work of the National Federation of the Blind.
  • I also want to recognize my friend Congressman Zeliff. Bill, I always enjoyed working with you in Congress and I appreciate your work on behalf of the blind.
  • Good Afternoon. It’s great to be here in Dallas with all of you. 
  • I’m pleased to be here with people representing a broad spectrum of careers and from every state in the country. I’d like to say a special hello to the NFB of Illinois.
  • I know you’ve had a full schedule of events over the last few days. And I’m thrilled to join all of you for this important conversation.
  • Like all of you, I believe it is important that we work together to make transportation accessible for every American.
  • Everyone deserves safe and reliable access to his or her job, schools and stores. Everyone deserves the right to pursue an education and live independently.
  • President Obama and the Department of Transportation are committed to giving all Americans the opportunity to achieve their dreams.
  • And we are especially committed to providing accessible transportation for blind and low vision Americans.
  • As you know, we will soon celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act—a law that protects Americans of all abilities against discrimination. 
  • And the Air Carrier Access Act was signed into law over 25 years ago—affording certain rights to Americans when they are traveling our skies. 
  • Both of these laws were groundbreaking legislative achievements and are powerful tools for equality.
  • Not that long ago, finding a school or university with facilities for the blind was daunting.
  • Employers could hide behind blindness as an acceptable reason to not hire a well-qualified applicant.
  • And service dogs were denied entrance to restaurants and hotels.  
  • Not anymore.
  • Today, there are elevator keys labeled in Braille.  There are public transportation systems with audio cues and integrated design features.
  • And while the ACAA and ADA were imagined as bids for equality, their implementation has benefited everyone. 
  • When an airport installs a sidewalk ramp, for instance, it doesn’t just serve people using wheelchairs.  It serves moms and dads with strollers.  It serves travelers with suitcases. 
  • When an airline installs communication and entertainment systems, it upgrades everyone’s flying experience.
  • Without question, the ACAA and ADA rank among the most significant civil rights triumphs in our nation’s history.  We have made progress but there is more work ahead of us.
  • We need to make it easier for people with disabilities to get on and off planes. 
  • We need to improve signage and communication both in our airports and on our aircraft. 
  • We need to harmonize international laws and domestic regulations so that travelers enjoy truly universal access. 
  • We need to think about all the different elements of the travel experience—such as getting to and through the airport.
  • We need to think about how we can guarantee that travelers’ dignity and safety are respected.
  • DOT is committed to equal access transportation for all travelers.
  • We are currently in the process of completing our rulemaking to ensure airline websites and automated airport kiosks are accessible to passengers with disabilities.  
  • Likewise, we are also working on the final details of our proposed rule required by the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.
  • This proposed new standard would require all hybrid and electric vehicles to emit minimum sounds so that pedestrians are able to detect their presence and recognize them as motor vehicles.
  • I know that many of you are following this issue closely. I want you to know that I stand with you.
  • Safety is our number one priority at DOT. We want every pedestrian—of all abilities—to feel comfortable walking down the street and using a crosswalk.
  • We are working very hard on this issue and expect to have the proposal out in the near future.
  • We are dedicated to getting it done and continuing to work with representatives of the blind and low vision communities.
  • As many of you know, auto companies are already taking steps on their own. They are working to produce electric vehicles with distinctive sounds aimed at warning people.
  • I think it’s great to have our business leaders going in a safer direction.
  • At the international level, we are leading the way in Quieter Vehicles issues. We are working with both the United Nations Working Party on Noise and the Workgroup on Quiet Road Transport Vehicles.
  • Through these efforts, we are able to consult with the world’s acoustic experts in order to develop a Global Technical Regulation. 
  • This would help to ensure that countries around the world have the same Quieter Vehicle requirements.  This is critical.
  • And we are also working with Transport Canada to better align our countries’ regulatory approaches.
  • All of this work will add up to a safer world for blind and low vision Americans—as well as for all other pedestrians.
  • Now, I have every confidence we can address each of these issues I’ve talked about – and you’re the reason why. 
  • Some of you have waged the fight for equality on America’s streets, in its courtrooms, and in its halls of government. 
  • Others have been leaders and partners in generating meaningful change across various modes of transportation. 
  • But in joining forces, you’ve made an enormous difference.  You bring extraordinary skills and strengths to bear in solving today’s challenges.
  • Two years ago, President Obama commemorated the ADA’s 20th anniversary on the South Lawn of the White House.  
  • There, he told the story of Stephen Hopkins, one of the lesser-known patriots to sit in the Continental Congress in 1776. 
  • Hopkins was an accomplished man. He was the chief justice and the governor of colonial Rhode Island.  And he was the first chancellor of what became Brown University. 
  • He also had a tremor so severe that his signature on the Declaration of Independence was considered the worst of them all. 
  • “My hand trembles,” he said upon signing the document.  “But my heart does not.”
  • Our purpose in convening today reaches back to that seminal American charter. 
  • Our purpose is to ensure that all people – regardless of their abilities – are afforded the fundamental rights that charter enshrined: independence, security, and opportunity.
  • After all, that’s what transportation is about. 
  • It’s more than a way to get from one place to another. 
  • It’s the means by which we lead our lives.
  • Each of you has helped make this pursuit possible for countless Americans.  
  • We must keep moving forward, but know that you are not alone. 
  • You will always have the support of President Obama and the Department of Transportation.
  • We look forward to working with you to give every American the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
  • Thank you very much.
Updated: Monday, November 19, 2012
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