Remarks Prepared for Delivery By
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao
Swearing-In of Neil Romano as Chairman,
National Council on Disability
At the National Archives
Thursday, July 19, 2018
Thank you, Andres [Gallegos – Member of National Council on Disability]. And thank you, Bishop Gamble, for the invocation. I would like to welcome Neil’s wife, Barbara, and their two daughters, Bianca and Christina. Also, Neil’s sister, Elizabeth Alexander is with us, as well as his brother, Greg, and wife Janice. In his work on behalf of people with disabilities, Neil took great inspiration from his brother Robert, a heroic Vietnam veteran who suffered paralysis due to his own service. Bob’s wife, Judy Lee Romano, is present for this wonderful occasion and we are delighted she could be here. She and her family worked tirelessly to give Robert the loving home and support he deserved.
We are also joined today by Congressman Greg Harper. It is good to see you. Mr. Chairman!
As a public official and through volunteer service, Neil Romano’s life has exemplified public service. Neil and I worked together at the Dept. of Labor when he was the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy. I still remember his swearing-in ceremony on June 27, 2008!
Neil and I believe strongly in promoting a culture of inclusiveness and advancing the mission of hiring of workers with disabilities. Not only because that is the right thing to do, but because bringing these very capable Americans into the workforce is the smart thing to do.
Among our initiatives during Neil’s tenure was to have the Bureau of Labor Statistics begin collecting employment data on persons with disabilities as part of the monthly Current Population Survey. This helped the Department gain a better understanding of the labor market experience of Americans with disabilities. And ultimately, it helped us understand how to best serve people with disabilities who want to be fully participating members of our society and our workforce.
The data showed that a significant hurdle for people with disabilities is access to transportation. Imagine a future where those with mobility issues – seniors and people with disabilities – will be free, thanks to technology, to visit loved ones, access jobs, or simply enjoy the open road. To help this vision become a reality, the Department of Transportation has prepared guidance to safely integrate autonomous technology into our transportation networks.
In the global economy, skilled workers are in greater demand than ever. And technology has provided unprecedented ways to incorporate the talents of all members of our society into the workforce. For both of us, this remains an enduring cause.
Neil additionally served as a member of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, The United States Access Board and The Committee for Purchase from People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled. In 2015, the Senate Majority Leader chose Neil to be a member of the National Council on Disability.
Neil serves on the boards of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, the Prison Jail Ministries Foundation, The Taylor Hooton Foundation, The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, The National Industries for The Blind and The United States International Council on Disabilities. And he received an Emmy nomination for his film, “Youth Homicide, A Public Health Crisis.”
As impressive as all that is, Neil has done so much more and overcame significant challenges to do so. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, but as a young man, Neil’s severe dyslexia prompted some to doubt that he could ever go to college. They encouraged him to learn a skill and become a baker, instead. Thankfully, he did not give up then. And he won’t give up now in his quest to improve the lives and opportunities available to people with disabilities everywhere.
And now, I am pleased to swear Neil in as Chairman of the National Disability Council.