WASHINGTON, Aug. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- On the opening night of the Democratic Convention, David Robar spoke from his wheelchair about the importance of preserving Medicare. Partially paralyzed by a motorcycle accident a decade ago, Mr. Robar knows personally how critical this government program is, and he also stressed the significance of legislation that allows one to hold a job without risking the loss of health coverage. "People with disabilities want to share the American Dream," he told the convention. On Wednesday, 14 year-old Kyle Glozer, who uses both a wheelchair and a voice synthesizer, addressed the convention, challenging the Democratic Party to reform the system that currently supports an institutional bias toward placing people with disabilities in nursing homes and institutions rather than serving them in the community. He called for improving opportunities for young people with disabilities who seek to become the leaders of tomorrow. The Convention organizers have also given prominent roles to two Congressional Sponsors of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.): Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, spoke on Wednesday; Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), lead sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, will be speaking in prime time tonight. "Americans with disabilities represent roughly a fifth of this country's population. Political leaders are finally recognizing that including people with disabilities makes for a stronger America," said N.O.D. President Alan Reich. "As we struggle to close the gaps in employment, education, and other aspects of American life between those with disabilities and our non-disabled counterparts, we are taking note of which politicians are making our concerns a priority." The Democrats are by no means the only party putting the agenda of Americans with disabilities in prime time this election year. Last month, the Republican Party made a point during its National Convention in Philadelphia of addressing itself to the 54 million citizens with disabilities. Blind mountain climber Erik Weihenmayer led the pledge of allegiance. David Wenzel, the former mayor of Scranton, Penn., who lost both his legs in Vietnam, saluted Gov. George W. Bush for his disability initiative. Windy Smith, who has Down Syndrome and who wrote to Gov. Bush urging him to run for President, also addressed the convention. Two former Miss Americas who have disabilities took part in the Republican National Convention. Heather Whitestone McCallum, who in 1995 became the first deaf Miss America, introduced former First Lady Barbara Bush. Miss America 1999, Nicole Johnson, who has diabetes, participated as well. At an N.O.D. event on Capitol Hill last month, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader pledged to make issues important to people with disabilities a major theme of his campaign. One reason that the political parties and their candidates are speaking out on disability issues is in response to N.O.D.'s VOTE! 2000 Campaign, a non-partisan effort to increase by 700,000 the number of voters with disabilities nationwide in this year's elections. Historically there has been a 20 percentage point gap between the voting level of people with disabilities and the rest of the population; in part this is due to many polling places being inaccessible to those with disabilities. "The Campaign has three elements: conducting a get-out-the-vote drive; increasing registration nationwide of people with disabilities; and ensuring that the nation's 120,000 polling places are accessible to all voters with disabilities," says the Campaign's director, N.O.D. Vice President Jim Dickson. Mr. Dickson, a well-known disability advocate who is himself blind, has traveled the country exhorting disability service providers, politicians, and citizens to mobilize for the political participation of the nation's largest minority. The campaign has led to numerous statewide and local efforts. The National Organization on Disability was founded in 1982. Its mission is to promote the full and equal participation and contribution of America's 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. N.O.D. is funded entirely by private donations and accepts no government funding. For more information visit www.nod.org.
SOURCE National Organization on Disability