The 2011 Tony Coelho Award was presented to the director of the Office of Personnel Management, John Berry. During the ceremony, Congressman Steny Hoyer shared remarks about the Honorable Tony Coelho and Director Berry. His remarks follow:
Congressman Hoyer’s Remarks at the Tony Coelho Award Breakfast
Scripture admonishes us: “do not curse the deaf or place before the blind a stumbling block.” For centuries, this passage guided the physically-able in their treatment of those with disabilities. That was until the Americans with Disabilities Act came along.
Tony and I, and many others, shared a belief that it is simply not enough to avoid placing obstacles in the way of people with disabilities. Rather, we as a nation ought to be proactive in creating the conditions for everyone to be able to participate fully in society, and we have a duty to ensure that all of our people can live with dignity as equal partners in it.
When Tony retired from Congress in 1989, he asked me to continue his longstanding efforts to pass ADA, which we were able to do the following year. It is because of his leadership and persistence that those with disabilities no longer face the daily obstacles – both literally and figuratively – that made it difficult to go about their daily business. When ADA was signed into law, it was rare to see a wheelchair ramp or a sign in Braille. Today, many take it for granted that public spaces are designed to be accessible to all.
John Berry does not take it for granted. When he began serving as OPM Director in April 2009, he embarked on a mission not only to make it easier for disabled federal employees to perform their duties, but he also set a goal of recruiting more Americans with disabilities into the federal workforce. He recognizes that they bring with them the job skills, knowledge, and sensitivities that will enhance our government and help make it even more responsive to those it serves.
This is especially important as wounded warriors return from Iraq and Afghanistan, some missing limbs or with brain injuries that make simple tasks difficult. Recruiting disabled veterans into government is a great way to keep their talents and acquired knowledge in service to our nation as we work toward meeting the multiple challenges we face.
By promoting the use of new telework technology and helping to change attitudes from the top down, John has been making an already inclusive workforce even more so. This is in line with his general management philosophy of making sure that our civil service is a reflection of the American people – that in our federal workforce, we see the best of our country.
I’ve known John for many years. He served for a decade as my legislative director, and I was thrilled when President Obama nominated him to run OPM. I have been fighting on behalf of our hard-working federal employees since coming to Congress, and John was there with me in the trenches during some tough battles.
I am proud to be here honoring him and his work today. He joins a distinguished list of past winners of the Tony Coelho Award. I know, because I am one of them!
It is very fitting that the award is in your name, Tony, since you were not only the author of the ADA, but you also have been a leading advocate over the years for those who have epilepsy, including your service as interim CEO of the national Epilepsy Foundation.
So thank you, Tony, for continuing to recognize those who are taking ADA to the next step by honoring the spirit of this law through their work. And congratulations, John, on this much-deserved honor.