Author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the show.
November 26, 2013 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Joyce welcomes Tony Coelho, author of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to the show. As a person living with epilepsy, Tony will discuss his experiences living with epilepsy. He will also share updates on the attempt by the senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

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"Disability Matters" with Joyce Bender

November 26, 2013

Guest: Tony Coelho

     This text is being provided in a rough draft format.  Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.


      >> Welcome to "Disability Matters," with your host, Joyce Bender.  All comments, views, and opinions expressed on this show are solely those of the host, guest, and callers.  Now the host of "Disability Matters."  Here's Joyce Bender. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and I am so thankful for you, for all of the guests that follow this show, because you're just helping us remind everyone of the power of people with disabilities and the issues that we deal with. 

   Now, I have to tell you from a personal note, it is just so special to me that our guest today, Tony Coelho, is someone that personally I am so thankful for.  I know all of you are, but I personally am very thankful for him because this month we are celebrating Epilepsy Awareness Month. 

   Tony is the civil rights leader, former congressman, he has changed the lives of people with disabilities throughout the world with being the author of the ADA.  But I have to also say he has personally changed my life and only for the better.  Tony, welcome to the show. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Thank you, Joyce.  It's great to be on today. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Tony, at the beginning of every show, we have been taking a few minutes to talk about the CRPD and get an update on the Convention.  I think we have Rhonda on the phone.  Are you on the phone? 


   >> JOYCE BENDER: You want to introduce yourself first? 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE: Sure.  Hi, everybody.  My name is Rhonda Newhouse, a Policy Analyst with Disability Affairs with the Disability Rights Education Fund, DREDF.  I am based in Washington, DC, and we are a national policy organization, and I have been working actively on CRPD ratification, among other issues. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Yes, and let me say Rhonda is a little powerhouse.  She is being modest here.  She is a powerhouse advocate. 

   So Rhonda, we have people listening throughout the United States who are so wanting to follow what's going on to get this thing signed and approved.  So where are we? 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE:  Okay, and thank you for your appreciation, Joyce.  I feel the same about you. 

   So where we are right now, we recently, in the last month, have had two hearings on this Convention, which have been in Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is the committee of jurisdiction for the CRPD.  Last week we had our second hearing, where we had Secretary Kerry who spoke, as well as representatives from AT&T and Boyd & Gray speak on our behalf in support of the CRPD.  Which was very well attended.  We had an amazing turnout from our community in and around the DC area, as well as people who flew in from around the country in person. 

   And then I really just want to say we have amazing network of over 800 organizations throughout the country who are working tirelessly on behalf of the CRPD, and I just want to in gratitude and appreciation for Thanksgiving coming up, I want to give my public thanks to this large coalition and those I work with around the country and here in DC. 

   So where we are now is the next step is going to be the markup and the vote out of the Committee.  We are hoping that will happen in December, although it is not on the calendar as of yet.  And then as soon as it gets marked up and voted out of Committee, hopefully in the new year we will move to a floor vote, make sure that we have the votes, continue to activate our community with calls.  We need everybody to make -- continue to make calls to your senators, tweet, Facebook, but calls are the most important in support of the CRPD to continue to let your senators know that this is a marathon and not a race, and we need to continue to let them know that we want this.  The community in the United States, the business community, the disability community, the faith group, and many others around the country are in support and actively working on this.

   >> JOYCE BENDER: And that's; is that right? 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE:  The website is, and everybody can get information there.  Just click on "Action Center," where you can click "call," and it will tell you who to call, what to say, and how to say it.  You can report back any information you get.  There are petitions.  There are ways to email your senators.  And I also want to say that there are two important days that are coming up that we can use around the country to talk about the CRPD.  One is next Tuesday, which is December 3, which is International Day of People with Disabilities, and there will be things going on all over the world and all over the country on behalf and in recognition of International Day of People with Disabilities, and you can use that to try to get some media attention or submit a letter to the editor in support of the CRPD.

   And the second one is December 10, the week after, which is International Human Rights Day.  So you can use the next two weeks following Thanksgiving and plan calls, plan media attention, or visits to both International Day of People with Disabilities on December 3 and International Human Rights Day on December 10.  And as always, go to and the Action Center for more information.  And you can get on listserv with UCED and with DREDF and follow many people on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media for more information. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Rhonda, I want to thank you not only for calling in, but for your dedication and advocacy.  And I know how passionate you are about CRPD because, unfortunately, I was there and saw your reaction when it was voted down.  But not going to happen again.  And it won't happen again if everyone follows through, makes those calls.  Get fired up!  Get on it.  And Rhonda, we're on it. 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE:  Thank you, Joyce, and thank you, everyone.  We can get this done, and I am very confident about that. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Me too. 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE: Thank you very much. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Lead on, Rhonda. 

   >> RHONDA NEWHOUSE:  Lead on, Joyce. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Thanks for calling. 

   Okay, now, Tony, you are like so in the middle of this because you've been behind this for a very long time.  You know, all through the ADA, ADA Amendments Act, 503, which, thank you, Tony, because that is going to change lives of so many people with disabilities to be able to get to work.  I mean, you know, it's like you're not doing enough, so now we had to add the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  But since you've been so involved from the beginning, I wanted you also to give them a little background about what happened the last time with Senator Dole. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Sure, Joyce.  Thank you very much.  Rhonda did a great job, and she is tireless, and she's really been a great advocate in leading people to try to get them involved, so I appreciate the fact that she's on the line. 

   The thing is I want to make sure that your listeners realize that all the Treaty does is basically take the ADA and try to make it an aspirational thing for countries around the world.  It doesn't cost us any money.  It doesn't change any law.  It does not change any American law at all.  And basically what it is is trying to encourage countries throughout the world to respect their citizens with disabilities. 

   In some countries, if you are born with a disability, you don't get a birth certificate.  You don't get an ID.  In some countries, women who become pregnant, if they have a disability, the baby is aborted.  If a child is born with a disability, in a lot of countries they put them in an institution. 

   So this goes on throughout the world, and we are trying to aspirationally get countries to realize that those of us with disabilities are human beings just like everybody else; that we have the right to fail and the right to succeed just like anybody else.  And we don't want to impose U.S. law or U.S. standards on anybody.  And that's not what the intent is.  The basic intent is to try to get countries throughout the world to treat us as human beings.  I was going to say treat us like they do their own citizens, but a lot of cases that's not good enough either.  But it's basically elevating the disability cause, and that's what it's all about. 

   So you asked a question about what happened in December when it was voted down.  Well, what happened, basically, is that we went to the floor -- you have to have 67 votes, two-thirds of the Senate, to pass a treaty, and we went to the floor with 64 votes, potentially 65, feeling that we could get the other two because there were several undecided and that if we got that close, people would not vote against it. 

   Senator Dole, we had arranged for him to be on the floor, and his wife, Elizabeth Dole, who is a senator from North Carolina, we got her to be on the floor as well.  And we knew that would be a dramatic situation and would help us get our final two votes.  What happened, however, is that in a luncheon that each of the parties, the republican and democratic senators separately have a luncheon on that day.  And on that day, at the Republican luncheon, there was a guest, and it was basically an individual who had just gotten elected to the Senate from Texas and who came in as a guest, he hadn't been sworn in yet, he came as a guest.  Senator Ted Cruz.  He came on and gave a rip-roaring speech, what the Treaty would do, how it would hurt people with disabilities, and so forth and so on.  So instead of going to the floor with 64, 65 votes, we went to the floor with 62, down to 61 votes.  The whole momentum changed.  And we were all devastated because we worked so hard on it. 

   And what we've had to do this year -- and they are reintroducing it in a new Senate -- is to convince people that it isn't true what some people say.  There's allegations that if we sign the Treaty, then the UN could send a committee in and check your homes if you're a homeschooler to see if you're ADA compliant.  If you are not, the UN could take your children away.  That is so far-fetched, such a horrible lie, that it's hard to argue against it. 

   But what it did, unfortunately, was scared a lot of families who homeschool their children, disabled children, into thinking that it could be possible.  And they all got alarmed and called their senators.  So we've now had to work hard to make sure people understand this treaty doesn't change any law, and the UN has no authority in the United States.  And we make that very clear in reservations, understanding that we can apply sort of like amendments to the treaty. 

   So it's been a difficult thing, and the same people who scream the loudest also raise money on this, and it's been a situation where people have been able to talk about how bad the treaty is, what it will do, and please contribute $5 or $10 or whatever you can for our cause.  So it's become a fund-raising tool for the extreme right, and it's unfortunate. 

   So we are working hard.  It will come to a markup meeting, they will try to pass it out of Committee, develop these amendments or RUDs, and the week of December 9th.  That might be a little premature, but that's what they are trying to do for December 9th, or it might be the week after.  I predict we won't get it to the Senate floor till January, but we're working hard.  Things, I think, are developing a lot easier because people are now basically understanding. 

   I say this, that the defeat of the treaty probably helped us more than it hurt us.  It would have helped if we would have got it through, but as a result of the defeat, the media got up in arms, the disability community got up in arms, the business community that is concerned about the treaty because what people don't realize is that we produce or develop most of the assistive technology that is used by people with disabilities throughout the world.  Those are American jobs.  Those are American taxes.  Everybody benefits in our country from that because we are the world's leader on developing assistive technology and, of course, on disabilities. 

   Our veterans were not that active last time around.  Now they're aggressively active.  We have 14 of the organizations have written a letter.  They've walked the Hill.  They are very involved.  The American Legion passed it at their convention and so forth.  So you have millions of American veterans.  And when people say, well, why would the veterans be interested?  Well, you know, number one is that they gave up the limbs of their body to fight for us.  A lot of them have developed mental illness because of their fighting for us.  And they want the right to be able to travel the world, and if the world's not accessible to them, that's a problem. 

   The other thing is in regards to businesses that veterans and Americans -- other Americans -- if they're offered a job overseas and that country is not accessible, they can't take the job.  Or if they get offered a job, a veteran gets offered a job or an American -- other Americans get offered jobs and they have a family member who is disabled and is not accessible, then they can't take their family or they don't, in effect, take the job.  And we've had people write to us and tell us about that they're -- in one very dramatic case, this woman says that her husband was an Air Force veteran, and he got this great offer overseas, but because she's disabled, he took the job, and then it wasn't accessible, so he had to quit and they all came back home.  But his ability to advance himself got hurt as a result of that. 

   So the veterans community is really involved, the business community is really involved like we've never had before, and we have a lot of people that have come forth who are just disgusted with the fact that we didn't approve the treaty who have gotten involved.  So that's what happened.  The result has been dramatic in getting people engaged and involved, and we're still working on that crowd, though, to get them to be supportive.  And we haven't got the right wing, and we probably won't, but we've got a lot of people who were influenced by them last time who are being open-minded this time. 

   So that's where we are.  That's the reason for it.  And I hope your listeners get engaged because, as was said, we need calls to your senators now.  The markup, meaning the finalizing of the bill, is going before the Committee, and then it will be on the Senate floor.  So no matter where you are from, please call your senators and tell them that this is important for the United States, it's important for those of us with disabilities and helping our fellow folks throughout the world in improving their lives. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: You heard him.  Make those calls.  And by the way, I think we have a caller on the line.  Judy, are you on the line? 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  I am on the line. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hey, Judy, how are you? 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  I am doing very well.  Limping around, Joyce.  When I heard Tony talking about accessibility, I can tell you, Tony, I, you know, when 30 years ago in the United States, when they first started talking about curb cuts and accessibility to buildings and all that sort of thing, I never thought I would see the day when that would happen.  But I have been a beneficiary of that, having, you know, broken bones and having to get around in wheelchairs and things like that.  You know, it really makes a difference to have that accessibility because you would be nowhere without it. 

   >> TONY COELHO: That's right. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  People were confined to your homes.  As you were speaking, people in other countries that still experience -- have those experiences. 

   And again, you are the leader of something that is so wonderful that, you know, I just can't thank you enough for everything that you do for people with all kinds of disabilities. 

   And I am not shocked at all about what Ted Cruz did because everything he has done since he became senator has, in my mind, been negative.  It surprises me very much that he has such a following. 

   But I certainly will support this in any way that I can and certainly call my senators and mobilize my crew here to do that.  I didn't realize the vote was coming up that soon. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Yeah.  You can help us because one of your senators is not with us, so the calls would be helpful. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Senator Toomey.  If everybody could call Senator Toomey, that would be great.  If you are in Pennsylvania, you can make that call.  You know what I was thinking, Judy?  You could put something on the website about the UN Convention.  I just want to tell you and Tony will tell you, at the hearing, the two people I see sitting side by side testifying on behalf of getting this done, Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh, two former governors of Pennsylvania. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Two former republican governors of Pennsylvania, and two officers in the Bush Administration, very strong republican, so this is a bipartisan treaty.  This is not something that just the Democrats are advocating.  As a matter of fact, it was written -- the support for it that went to the UN was written by George W. Bush, the son, and when he was President.  So this is definitely bipartisan.  But it's --

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  Similar to the Affordable Care Act that was written by republicans, and now we've got this right, right -- you know -- people that aren't even -- don't even seem like  Republicans, like Tom Ridge, Dick Thornburgh --

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Don't forget, we also have John McCain, Senator Barrasso. Anyone listening to this show, I want you to know we have really bipartisan support.  But unfortunately, as Dick Thornburgh said, this one thing Tony was talking about where people were saying about the homeschooling, is totally false.  And here he is, former Attorney General.  He's read this inside and out.  He has no idea what people are talking about. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  I know, but why do people tend to believe those things? 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I don't know, Tony, what's your answer to that? 

   >> TONY COELHO: It's scare tactics, and people go after the fear in people.  And if you are a mother or father of a disabled child and somebody says that this treaty could end up taking your children away, you are afraid. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  You are not going to take any chances. 

   >> TONY COELHO: So you immediately react.  And if it's from somebody who is a proponent of homeschooling, who is advocating that this is going to happen, you agree to it.  

   Now, we have an amendment called RUDs, reservations and understandings.  That says this has nothing to do with homeschooling.  As a matter of fact, we have an amendment that says that it would not have an impact on homeschooling whatsoever. 

   And so I really -- I don't blame the people who make the phone calls because they're doing it out of fear and love for their children.  But I do blame the people who deliberately create the fear among these families about an issue that isn't true.  And it's only to raise money and to advance their individual cause as opposed to helping the very people that they're frightening.  And I deeply resent it.  I deeply, deeply resent it. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  I'll bet you do.  And I hope they have seen that side of you that lets people know how much you deeply resent it. 


   >> JOYCE BENDER: You mean that he's a fireball?  He is not a fireball; he is fire, period. 

   Judy, before you go, I just want all of our listeners to know, you know, Judy has done so much in her life for people with epilepsy.  And at the beginning of next year, she will be retiring.  And as this is Thanksgiving, I want to thank you, Judy, for all you've done for people with epilepsy. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  Well, I want to wish you the very happiest of Thanksgiving, Joyce.  You too, Tony, and thank you all for being part of my life and mentoring me and making me a better person. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Judy, before you get off, I just want Joyce's listeners to know that I've been involved in the epilepsy movement for years and years and years.  I am 71, so that gives you an idea how many years.  I will say to people that I was Chairman of the Board of the Epilepsy Foundation.  I was CEO for a period of time.  And nobody has helped me more than Judy Painter.  I love you for that.  I love the way you handle things, the way you tell me off when I am wrong and love me when I am right.  I love you. 

   >> JUDY PAINTER:  I love you whether you are right or wrong. 


   Love you both.  Take care. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Happy Thanksgiving, Judy. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Thank you, Judy. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Tony, since Judy was just on and this is Epilepsy Month, I am happy to tell you we have like a huge listening base.  It seems to get larger and larger.  But there are people listening that may not know your story, and I wondered if you would mind telling your personal story.  That's why we aren't taking any breaks today.  So that people would understand why you do what you do. 

   >> TONY COELHO: I am happy to, Joyce.  Please don't let me get winded on it because I get -- it is my personal story, and I get engaged. 

   Well, it started when I was 16.  I was in the barn milking cows on my family's dairy farm, and all of a sudden I passed out, not knowing what happened or anything.  And I woke up, and my doctor was sitting on me, and you know, I lived out in the country, town of 2,000 people.  I always joke if you count the cows and chickens.  And I woke up, and this doctor is sitting on me, and I couldn't talk at first.  But I finally asked what was going on.  They said, well, you passed out.  You are okay.  We don't know what it is.  We're going to do some more research. 

   What I didn't know then is that the doctor told my parents that I was having seizures, that I had epilepsy probably.  And my parents were -- were taught to believe that if you had epilepsy, it meant you were possessed by the devil and that God was punishing the family not because necessarily I did anything wrong but somebody in the family had done something wrong and that God was punishing that family through my seizures.  So that openly people could see that we were a marked family. 

   Now, I didn't know any of this, and consequently, I didn't know they were keeping it from me.  I didn't know anything about this, this feeling among a lot of cultures.  And so I thought, well, the doctor knew what he was talking about.  So I went to several doctors.  They thought it was lack of calcium I was told.  I took medicine for that.  I probably realize now that it was epilepsy medicine, but you know, they said I didn't have it. 

   But anyhow, I went to several doctors, and finally, my parents gave up on the medical doctors and they sent me to witch doctors.  So I went to about three different witch doctors, and they, you know, poured the oil on my head and burned incense and said prayers and so forth.  And as a 17-year-old, it basically scared the heck out of me. 

   I finally said to one witch doctor that I didn't believe, and my parents got upset, but I never went back again.  And this was during high school and so forth, and I was student body president, outstanding senior.  So I had my seizures, but I still functioned normal, obviously, when I wasn't. 

   Then I went to college, and Kennedy gets assassinated in '63, and I decide as a result of that to become a Catholic priest.  I joke in this part and say that that was to the shock of my girlfriend of five years and to my fraternity brothers who knew better. 


   But I decided that's what I wanted to do with my life.  I wanted to devote my life to helping people, as I felt John F. Kennedy did.  And I intended to be a lawyer and go to law school and be a lawyer. 

   And I entered the seminary upon graduating, and I was outstanding senior, student body president, all this stuff, and got a lot of job offers.  But I turned it all down to go to seminary, and I did.  But I had to have a physical.  And so I go through my physical, and the doctor, Dr. John Doyle Sr. in Los Angeles, said to me have you ever had passing out spells or headaches?  And I said yes, all the time.  And he said did anybody ever tell you what it was?  I said no, they could never find out what it was.  And I told him my story. 

   And so he said, well, you have epilepsy.  You won't have to serve in the military because you're 4F.  And number two, because of your epilepsy, there's a canon law, the laws of the Catholic church, a canon laws established in 400 AD saying if you have epilepsy or are possessed by the devil, you can't be a priest.  So I was kicked out. 

   At that point, I was happy because I knew what these seizures were, what this problem was, and that there was medication that could help me and so forth.  So at age 21 I started taking medication, and at 71, I am still taking medication and I still have seizures. 

   But I was thrilled because I knew what it was, and I felt good about it. 

   So I called my family, I told them, and I thought they would be happy, but they said no son of ours has epilepsy.  Again, I didn't know why they were saying it.  Now I understand it, but at the time I didn't. 

   I get kicked out of the priesthood.  My family rejects it.  I tried to get a job.  Everywhere I went, I checked the box that I had epilepsy because the word "epilepsy" was on every job application.  And those people who had been seeking me out when I was graduating now didn't have any room for me.  And I got turned down by everybody.  I became -- I started drinking.  I was drunk every day by 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, and I would drink in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California. 

   One day I'm very suicidal, and I'm -- I can't -- I can't imagine living the way I was because everything I'd ever loved in my life had turned against me -- my God, my family, everything I believed in had changed and turned against me.  Then I'm drunk one day on this hill.  I thought it was a mountain at the time, but I realize it's only a hill.  But I was drunk one day, and I heard the music of a merry-go-round.  I looked down, and sure enough there was a merry-go-round with little kids getting off and on.  I had never seen it before, never paid attention.  I was too absorbed in myself. 

   I looked at those little kids, and something came over me and said that -- it changed my life forever, but basically it was that I was never going to ever let anything or anybody ever stop me from believing in myself again.  And I never have.  From that day forward, I felt positive about myself.  I felt positive about my epilepsy.  I left that mountain, went back to the fraternity house where I was staying, and I felt good about myself. 

   And the head of the Psychology Department at Loyola University in Los Angeles came to me and said I have an opportunity for you.  And it was to live with the Bob Hope family.  And so I did.  I lived with the Hope family for a year.  And I was treated as a member of the family, went to different events with them, and so forth.  Mr. Hope and I became good friends.  He said to me one day, he said, Tony, you think you have a ministry?  And ministry can be practiced in all kinds of things.  It can be practiced in religion, of course.  It can be practiced in business.  It can be practiced in entertainment.  It can be practiced in sports.  But the most important and the most effective is in politics. 

   And I had never thought of that before.  And he said you would be perfect in politics.  He said I don't mean working for the government.  I mean actually being involved in the political system.  He said that's where you belong. 

   I thought about it, and a few, couple weeks later, I wrote a letter to my congressman, got interview with him, from Fresno, California, I got an interview with him, and he immediately said I want you to become part of my staff.  So that was 1965, April of '65 I started working for him.  And I've been in politics ever since.  I didn't think I was interested, but because of Mr. Hope, I was, and I've given him credit for steering me in this direction. 

   One day later he got upset with me.  He said, you know, I could have put you in with somebody important.  And I said, well, I love my congressman.  And I worked for my congressman for 14 years.  And then when I -- when he retired, he wanted me to take his place.  I did, and I ran, and my opponent used my epilepsy against me at one point and said I was very sick man.  What would you think if Tony went to the White House and arguing a critical issue for us, such as water -- which is a huge issue in the western United States -- and argued on water and had a seizure? 

   I got calls that night from several people who were at the dinner.  The next day I got a call from reporters.  I understand this happened last night.  What's your reaction?  And I'm not always that clever, but I always say the good Lord was with me, and I responded by saying, well, you know, in the 14 years I've been a staffer in the Congress, I've seen a lot of people go to the White House and have fits, but at least I'd have an excuse. 


   And that ended it, Joyce.  I've never had anybody take me on --

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Oh, that was good. 

   >> TONY COELHO: -- about my epilepsy again.  As a matter of fact, it has been my guide in doing a lot of different things since then. 

   But I got elected and decided that I was going to devote myself to agriculture and water issues, which is critical for my district, but that my passion was going to be doing something about those of us with disability.  So I offered amendments and so forth and then realized that that wasn't enough, that we needed our basic civil rights.  In other words, a right to have access to life just like anybody else.  And before 1990, we were discriminated against in movie theaters because if you were in a wheelchair, you became a fire hazard.  You were going to a restaurant, you couldn't see the menu, you were a nuisance if you asked what was on the menu.  On and on and on. 

   And so I decided to do the ADA.  And I'm most proud of that than anything I've done because, obviously, it's passed, and we amended it later because the Supreme Court said that it didn't cover non-physical disabilities, which find intriguing because I wrote the darn thing and yet they were saying I excluded myself. 


   But we then did the ADA Amendments Act, and it passed the Congress as well. 

   And I am proud of it because we export a lot of things all over the world, some good, some bad, but we have exported respect for those of us with disabilities all across the world.  52 different countries have the ADA as law of their land in some form or another. 

   We now have 130 people -- 130 countries -- who have signed the disabilities treaty and have ratified it.  We have not.  The leading country in the world in regards to disabilities has not certified the treaty, which doesn't make any sense in the world at all.  And that's why I work so hard in regards to helping those of us with disabilities changing laws and trying to get like 503 changed because federal contractors and subcontractors, by law, for years are not supposed to discriminate against people with disabilities.  They have to prove that they are hiring people with disabilities. 

   That law, when it was established 30-some years ago, basically said that federal contractors and subcontractors -- remember, they get work for the federal government, they supply goods like paper and pencils and airplanes and so forth to the federal government, and the stipulation basically is if you are going to get taxpayer money to supply goods and services for the federal government, you have to make sure that you're hiring people with disabilities, women, and people of color.  That's what we believe in as a country. 

   And so these -- this law goes into effect.  Of course, it's made a huge difference in regards to women.  It's made a huge difference in regards to people of color.  Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court says if it hadn't been for 503, she wouldn't be on the court, being that it permitted women to get involved in the legal system. 

   And so the enforcement of 503 for people with disabilities was never enforced, and the reason it wasn't is the excuse was we don't have a definition for disability, and we don't have the data to employ it.  In other words, we don't have anything on the Census Bureau or any statistics at all in regards to how many people have disabilities and where do they live. 

   So I went to work on it in the first of the Clinton Administration, and we developed a definition of disability for all the federal agencies, and it's now used by everybody. 

   And then we came up with the question for the Census Bureau to ask, so the Bureau of Labor Statistics could start to determine how many people with disabilities there are throughout the country, what states and cities they live in.  So if you are going to require federal contractors to hire people, you have to know that there are people with disabilities in these different areas, and so forth. 

   So it took 25 years, but finally, we got it done, and President Obama signed an executive order saying that federal contractors, subcontractors have to comply with the law, have to go ahead and do this. 

   There's been a lot of arguing.  As a matter of fact, one of the associations just filed a lawsuit against it saying that people with disabilities aren't strong enough to do construction work.  Those are the same people that said that women couldn't be in the military because they weren't strong enough.  It's also the same people who said that women shouldn't move up in corporate America, shouldn't be CEOs, so forth. 

   And so the feeling against those of us with disabilities is that we're not fully competent, we're not fully able.  That's the stigma that we've been fighting, that's the stigma that I believe so strongly needs to be taken on and go after and prove to people that we would -- those of us with disabilities have just as much ability as somebody else. 

   There are a lot of people like me who can't be a fireman, who can't be a policeman, because I might have a seizure driving a fire engine or a police car, and I can't own a gun.  And so I don't have any trouble with those restrictions, but you know what?  I know a lot of people who couldn't be a successful congressman or couldn't be a successful CEO on Wall Street, and I was, and I still have seizures.  So I can go on and on about the people with disabilities and how they've been successful like you, Joyce, in running a company, a very successful company, but I could give example after example of we have ability, and people need to pay attention and give us credit for our abilities, as they should with anybody, with or without a disability.  You should judge people on their abilities, not on the color of their skin or their looks or their sexuality or whatever.  And that's what's made America such a strong country, and we can't let people beat us down now. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Tony, when I hear this whole story, you know what I am sitting here thinking?  Bob Hope gave the world hope with you.  Because you gave the world hope.  That's what I have to say. 

   I know we have a caller on the line.  Mark, are you on the line? 

   >> MARK PERRIELLO:  I am here. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Hey, Mark Perriello, how are you doing? 

   >> MARK PERRIELLO: Good.  I have a question and a comment.  So Tony, I have been listening to your story and I have heard parts of it before, and it never ceases to sort of choke me up, and it really sort of humbled me in the sense that we all have so much work to do and we all are human. 

   I, like you, when I was younger -- I am blind in my right eye -- went to many faith healers, sort of paraded down by my parents, and it takes quite a toll on young people when they are told you need to be fixed or changed or somehow you're not living up to some divine expectation and that is why perhaps you aren't being healed. 

   My question to you is what do you say to young folks who might be listening who might be going through the same thing about how they can stay strong and know that they are inherently valued as a human? 

   >> TONY COELHO: Well, I would say first off is that most parents who may not seem to be understanding or you may think are negative realize that they do a lot of this based on their love for you, not because they're discriminating, not because they're negative, but because of their love for you.  At times, they are the ones that hold you back.  They don't want you to get hurt.  They believe, as a lot of people believe, that you don't have the ability to do certain things. 

   So first off, I would say if your parents aren't cooperative and helpful, don't think they're being negative.  The other way around.  And it's -- what you have to do is try to educate them about it if you can.  If you can't, just understand that, number one. 

   Number two is you've got to believe in yourself.  You have to -- I tell people, young people all the time -- and I speak to young people a lot -- to go up to that mirror, look at that mirror, and talk to that person in the mirror.  Because that's the only person who knows what you really believe and what you really think.  And tell that person that you love them.  Tell that person that you believe in them.  Tell that person they are okay.  Because you've got to do that if you have a disability because we have to believe in ourselves.  We have to be willing to fight for what we believe in.  We've got to be willing to fight to have that job, to do whatever we want to do.  Recognize what you can't do, but really pursue what you can do. 

   And that person in the mirror will tell you if you are fibbing about it or if you are misleading yourself or whatever.  Because you know what the truth is, and that person in the mirror will tell you that you know what the truth is. 

   I just -- you know, our young people today, a lot of the stigmas that we grew up with are no longer there that are being eroded, but most important thing is you've got to believe.  And don't let somebody bully you because of your disability or whatever it is.  Just don't let them do it. 

   I've had too many young people that I've mentored who gave up because of the bullying and so on.  So believe.  Believe, believe, believe. 

   >> Mark Perriello:  Wow, good advice, no matter what age, I think. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Yep. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: I always say that if you could get that one thing that Tony just talked about there and bottle it, oh, my God, you would be like a trillionaire because that is the key, believing in yourself and what you can do.  I agree. 

   And Mark, have a happy Thanksgiving, and also, how's everything going at AAPD? 

   >> Mark Perriello:  Things are going really well at AAPD.  Thank you, and actually, thanks to both of you.  And have a wonderful Thanksgiving as well. 

   I actually would just add, we just finished a forum on technology with groups like Google and AT&T and IBM and Verizon and Time Warner and Comcast that was really productive.  You know, technology has the power, I think, to be a great equalizer for our community, and it was a wonderful discussion.  So I would just say keep your eyes out for more information on that in the future. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Thank you, Mark. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: All right.  Hey, happy Thanksgiving. 

   >> Mark Perriello:  Happy Thanksgiving.  Bye. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Tony, I don't know if I ever asked you this on the radio show before, but -- and there may be more than one, but you know, if you -- being interviewed right now, who would you say your role model has been? 

   >> TONY COELHO: Probably several people in different parts of my life.  The -- Bob Hope, of course, had a huge impact on me.  And I loved all the things that he stood for.  He was American through and through, although he was British born, but he loved this country, and he went to Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia many times, and right in the middle of war, right up on the front lines entertaining the troops. 

   Every Christmas I was there.  During the one Christmas in '64 and he was not there with his family, but when he returned, we celebrated New Year's as Christmas. 

   But there's a guy who was unselfish, married for 50 years, lived to be 101 or whatever it was.  He was just the type of person you loved being around.  He was always up, he was always thinking about what should and should not happen.  He later would question me about my not staying that involved with him, and I said I never wanted to take advantage of what he did for me or his fame or whatever.  And he appreciated so much my giving him the credit for turning me around. 

   But he was early on my first hero was my high school superintendent who believed in me and urged me to go to school, go to college, and not let me stop and who really pushed me hard.  And he and I became very, very close friends until he died.  I did the eulogy for his services. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Always amazing the new things I find out about you. 

   >> TONY COELHO: And then my boss, Congressman Bernie Sisk, became my third hero.  He believed in me.  We had a staff member who tried to get me fired because he was jealous of the relationship that I had with my boss, like father and son.  I was the son he never had, and he was the father I never had.  And he -- I'd have seizures, and he would tell everybody that's okay, he's just having a seizure.  Just let him alone.  And then when I'd get through with my -- with seizing, he would, you know, make sure I had some water, and then we'd proceed with, you know, whatever we were doing.  We'd proceed as if nothing ever happened, and he was so up and positive about it, you know, sometimes I'd cry because he was just so positive. 

   And he -- you know, for 14 years, he wanted me to succeed and wanted me to take his place, and I was a mere staffer, and I ran for Congress and got elected. 

   And then a person that I looked up to that I didn't know that I wanted to be like and he had a huge impact and wanting me to go into the priesthood, obviously, and then I moved into politics, was John F. Kennedy.  I read every book about him.  I was in a state of fog for five days during that period when he got shot.  But he was, you know, kind of the example for me of somebody who gave a lot.  Didn't need to give but was engaged and wanted to do the right thing for citizens. 

   So those are my heroes throughout my life, and I've tried to live up to what they taught me. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Wow.  Well, those are some powerful people, and Tony, before you give the -- whatever message you want to leave with our guests, first I want to say hello, Yoshiko Dart.  You are just amazing how you've been so faithful with all these shows, and I know how much you look forward to Tony's show. 

   But the other thing I want to say is, Tony, you are my role model.  And you have definitely changed my life, to make me not only believe in myself, but to want to help other people even more.  So as a woman living with epilepsy, I just want to thank you for everything you have done to help me and help people with disabilities. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Well, thank you, Joyce.  I appreciate those comments.  You know, you and I are like brother and sister now, and we've developed this great relationship which is cherished by me, and you know what I've said many times is that you unselfishly have employed thousands of people throughout the country and Canada who have disabilities who would not have been placed otherwise.  You've changed their life.  And so I just really appreciate everything that you've done for people with disabilities.  I don't think people realize the impact that you, as a single person, have had in the lives of thousands of people with disabilities. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: Well, thank you, but it's a pittance to what you've done.  And just to show that, I end every show with a quote from someone that has impacted all of us, impacted the world, and today that quote is from Tony Coelho who said, "Work gives us dignity."  Thank you, Tony, and happy Thanksgiving to all of you listening to this show.  I hope you and your family, all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving.  Thank you, Tony. 

   >> TONY COELHO: Thank you, Joyce.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  Bye-bye. 

   >> JOYCE BENDER: You too. 

   Talk to you next week, everyone. 

   >> Voice America would like to thank you for tuning in.  Please join us next Tuesday at 11 a.m. Pacific Time for another installment of "Disability Matters," right here on the Internet leader in talk radio, 


This text is being provided in a rough draft format.  Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.