THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 21, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON DIGITAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR AMERICANS
Mott Community College
3:15 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everyone. I am
delighted to be here at Mott Community College. And I want to begin by
thanking Karla Hudson again for her sterling example, but even more for her
commitment to helping other people build a better future for themselves.
I also want to thank my longtime friend and now Cabinet member,
Secretary Mineta, for his years and years of commitment to empowering people
with disabilities. I thank my National Economic Advisor Gene Sperling, who
is anative of Michigan, for the work he did on the announcements I will make
today. And, Mayor Stanley, thank you, as always. Judy Brewer, thank
you for your work.
I also want to acknowledge Pamela Loving from the Career
Alliance, and Michael Zelley from the Disability Network for what they're doing.
(Applause.) I'd like to thank Dr. Shaink, the board and the faculty
members and the students of Mott Community College for making us welcome here
And I'd like to acknowledge a couple of other people who came
with me today to be here -- first, the remarkable President of Gallaudet
University in Washington. D.C., Dr. I. King Jordan, and a marathon runner --
congratulations for being here. (Applause.)
James Clark, Vice President at NCR; Carl Augusto, the President
of the American Foundation for theBlind; and from the administration, Judy
Heumann, the Assistant Secretaryfor Special Education Rehab Services, and
Jonathan Young from the WhiteHouse. They're all around there -- thank you
all very much for being here.
I would also like to thank the Vice President in his absence
for the work that he has done with me for eight years to empower all Americans.
Looking back, I think this is my fourth trip, Mayor, to Flint.
I'm beginning to feel at home -- (applause.) I'm afraid if I come back
I'll get a tax bill, I've been here so often. (Laughter.) When I
first came here in 1992, Mayor Stanley welcomed me. Now I'm about to leave
the presidency, and when I'm gone he'll still be Mayor. (Laughter.)
I want to know what the secret is. (Laughter.)
Let me say, as Secretary Mineta said, this is a very fortunate
time for our country, and it happened because of a lot of people across America
working together. Flint has worked hard, against tough odds, to bring this
city back, to prepare for a new century. And you have made a great deal of
progress. I am quite sure that the people whom I visited today who are
involved with the Disability Network and the Career Alliance and the people at
this community college have played a major role in the resurgence of this fine
But we all know that not everyone has shared in the American
economic renaissance. We all know there are people and places who have
been left behind, including millions of Americans with significant disabilities
who want to go to work, but whose path is blocked, and who could work and could
contribute, not only to their own lives, but to the rest of us, as well.
The great labor priest, George Higgins, articulated a
fundamental truth when he said, "Work is an important way in which we
exercise our humanity. In return, society offers us not only our daily bread,
but a sense that we, ourselves, are honored for the contributions we make."
When I sought the presidency in 1991 and 1992, my first
objective was to give work back to the American people. One of the
strongest supporters I had was your former governor, who is here with me today,
and my friend of many years, Jim Blanchard, and I thank him for coming.
(Applause.) Not only here in communities in Michigan, but in far away New
Hampshire, Jim went with me in the snows to listen to people who had lost their
livelihoods, who broke down over dinner crying because they were afraid they'd
never be able to send their kids to school.
And we have, in large measure, succeeded. But we have not
given every American the chance, first, to get an education, and second, to use
their education to work and achieve the American Dream. We have an
obligation to do it -- an obligation that requires us to keep expanding the
circle of opportunity. And in this information age, when the pace of
change increasingly accelerates at a breathtaking rate, we cannot achieve that
goal if we leave any Americans stranded on the other side of the now
famousdigital divide. (Applause.)
Now, for nearly eight years now, the Vice President and I have
worked to break down barriers that hold people back. One of the most
important things we did was to fight hard in the Telecommunications Act of 1996
to insist that people with disabilities have full access to telephone equipment
and service that most people take for granted. And one of our Federal
Communications Commissioners, Susan Ness, is here with me today. I thank
her and I thank all of those who helped us to fight for the rights of disabled
Americans in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. (Applause.)
In 1998, we pushed through the Workforce Investment Act,
requiring that any information technology the federal government buys be
accessible to people with disabilities. And in 1999, I was very proud to
sign the Work Incentives Improvement Act, which will enable Americans with
disabilities to retain their Medicare or Medicaid coverage when they go to work
and provide more choices for job training. This will give tens of
thousands of Americans the opportunity to be in the work force.
But breaking down barriers is not enough. People actually
have to have the tools they need to take advantage of this remarkable moment of
opportunity -- especially the tools they need in cyberspace. There
are truly amazing new possibilities, as I saw today on my tour.
Through information technologies, a person with a disability
such as the great physicist, Stephen Hawking, can continue to be one of the
world's top astrophysicist and -- and this is a big "and," because he
suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease and is the longest living person, as far as we
know, in history with that disease -- and I'm convinced that one of the reasons
he is alive today, with the fire in his eyes and the passion burning in his
heart, is that he can not only continue to learn, he can continue to communicate
what he knows and what he thinks to the rest of the world,
thanks to technology. (Applause.)
Millions of other people with disabilities can also access and
use the information super highway if we build the necessary on-ramps. For
example, we're creating a national network of community technology centers so
that all Americans, no matter where they live or what their incomes, have easy
and affordable access to the Internet.
I visited America's newest community technology center this
afternoon, right here in Flint, a partnership between the Department of
Education, Mott Community College and the nonprofit Disability Network, focusing
on empowering people with disabilities to access the Internet and learn computer
skills. I was amazed by a lot of what I saw: technology that translates
web pages aloud for people who are blind or visually impaired; provides
captioning for deaf and hard of hearing people; enables people with significant
physical disabilities to control a computer through eye movement and brain
waves. This technology has unbelievable potential.
I have a friend in North Carolina, named Joe Martin, with Lou
Gehrig's disease. Years ago, we worked together on education and the
economy in the South. Joe Martin then was in great health. He was
vigorous, energetic, charismatic, compelling and effective. He's had Lou
Gehrig's disease for some time now, and in spite of how great he was then, he is
greater today in every way.
Although he can't walk or talk or use his hands, his eyes
provide a window on the world. With EyeGaze technology, he can look at a
computer screen and type away just using his eyes. He e-mails people here
in Flint. With another glance he can activate an electronic voice that
reads his words aloud. This astounding technology has enabled him to keep
his job as a banker, to talk with his wife and friends and, now, write an about
to be published compelling book about his life. (Applause.)
Some of you may have heard of a young swimmer from South
Africa, named Terence Parkin. Yesterday, he won the Silver Medal in the men's
200 meter breast stroke, one of the best athletes in the world. He also
happens to be deaf, and he can't hear the starting buzzer that used to begin all
swimming races. Instead, he can now watch for a personal, yellow starting
light, which flashes at his starting block at the same time the buzzer goes off.
By installing the simplest of technology -- a little light bulb -- officials
gave this determined and gifted athlete his shot at glory. He took it.
Now he can celebrate the flash of sunlight off his Silver Medal -- and aren't
you glad he got the chance to race. (Applause.)
These kinds of innovations are going to make a tremendous
difference in people's lives, especially as we incorporate them into mainstream
technology, something Judy emphasized. Here in Genesee County, employers
can't find enough people to fill all the technical jobs. Many pay $20 an
Now, if we want to keep the rest of the economy growing, we
have to make information technology more accessible. It's responsible for
about 30 percent of the economic growth we've enjoyed over the last eight years.
And we have to bring more people into the circle of opportunity to work in
information fields. That means people with disabilities have to be able to
enter the 21st century work force, not only for your own benefit, but for the
rest of America as well. (Applause.)
Today I am honored to announce several major public and private
commitments that will move us in the right direction. First, 45 chief
executive officers of American high-tech companies have pledged to make their
products more accessible to people with disabilities, training their employers
to develop new accessible software, hardware and services.
Second, 25 of our nation's leading research universities have
committed to helping us provide equal access to information, including new
course work for engineering majors, and new tenure-track faculty positions to
address these challenges. That's a big deal, think about it -- major
universities giving people tenure to teach how to provide equal access to all
Americans without regard to disabilities, to have information-age technology.
That's wonderful. (Applause.)
Third -- I'm trying to keep up with all of this. Third, I
am pleased to announce that Flint's very own C.S. Mott Foundation -- and I
believe the President of the foundation, Bill White, is here -- will support
these goals by funding a blue-ribbon task force, headed by the Disability
Network, to figure out how to make this new technology more affordable. It's not
enough to develop it if people can't afford it. (Applause.)
Fourth, I'm directing my Cabinet to explore ways of enhancing
Medicare and Medicaid to help people with disabilities pay for technologies to
enable them to live and work independently in their communities.
(Applause.) The Department of Education will provide grants totaling $4
million to the Web Accessibility Initiative and the National Center for
Accessible Media, to help to ensure that people with disabilities can tap into
the worldwide web and make the most of on-line learning.
And, finally, I am particularly proud to announce that
AmeriCorps is awarding $9 million in grants to put 1,200 volunteers into schools
and communities to teach students with disabilities and children from difficult
backgrounds the skills they need to take advantage of the Internet. (Applause.)
One project in North Carolina will provide computer training to
300 students who are blind or visually impaired, showing them a whole new
horizon of possibilities. And I know, of course, that AmeriCorps
volunteers have been active in the disability community here in Flint, and I
thank them for their work. And thanks for wearing your t-shirt today. You
look good. (Applause.) Thank you.
I've got to get in a little plug for AmeriCorps now. Our
legislation reauthorizing AmeriCorps is now pending in the Congress. I
have now received a letter signed by 49 of the nation's 50 governors asking
Congress to reauthorize AmeriCorps and other community programs administered by
the Corporation for National Service, including the new e-corps program to
bridge the digital divide. I hope Congress will take a look at what you've
done here and reauthorize AmeriCorps. (Applause.)
Let me just make two points in closing. Once more,
bridging the digital divide is not just the morally right thing to do, it is the
smart thing to do. I remember a decade ago when people were debating the
Americans with Disabilities Act, critics said it would be too expensive to make
public facilities available to put in curb cuts, handrails, to put those signs
in Braille up. They were wrong. Since we've torn down those barriers, more
than a million Americans with disabilities have entered the work force and we
have had the strongest economy America has ever known. It is good to help
people live their dreams. (Applause.)
And if we build new on-ramps to the information super highway,
people with disabilities will help us build an even stronger America, and, I
might add, share in the promise of the declaration of true independence.
The second thing I'd like to say is, this is about way more
than economics. It's important to be able to earn a living. And I
want all of you to contribute to America's economic welfare. But it's
about more than economics. A century ago, visionaries here in Flint
harnessed the potential of new technology to build the world's largest auto
company. Their success gave Americans a mobility and freedom that reshaped the
entire economic and physical landscape of our nation.
Today, at the dawn of the Information Age, we have the
potential to give millions of Americans even greater freedom in cyberspace.
As I said, it's about more than economics. You know, when I was driving
from my last stop here, there were police along the way at intersections, making
sure that no children got in the way of the motorcade or no cars went through
the stop sign. One of those police officers was in a wheelchair.
One of my speechwriters has one disabled arm and one
prosthesis. He writes a heck of a speech. It's nice that he's got a
job, but it's more important that the feelings of his heart can be expressed.
One of the things I've learned in nearly 30 years in public life and a few years
before that, just sort of ambling around the world, is that everybody's got a
story. Everybody's got dreams, everybody's afraid sometimes and brave sometimes.
And in the end, when you strip it all away, there's not a great deal of
difference in the relative significance of our stories. If you put all the
people in the world end to end, with the person with the lowest IQ on one end
and the highest IQ on the other, you couldn't stick a straw between any two
The whole premise of America is that we are inherently, in a
fundamental way, equal, though unique. People carry different burdens in
life, and everybody, even the most blessed, carry a few. God puts bigger
burdens on some than others, but everybody should have the chance to have their
story. (Applause.) In the end, in the not completely knowable terrain of
the human heart is the real argument for all these efforts.
So I ask you, I'll do everything I can in the time remaining.
For the rest of my life I'll be grateful that I happened to be President at this
moment of true revolution in human ability. But we have to keep working,
and never forget: the economics is important, but the dreams matter more. Thank
you and God bless you. (Applause.)
3:37 P.M. EDT