Candidates Address Disabilities Forum

Hundreds of voters, most of whom have disabilities, attended a forum Friday to pressure presidential candidates to support their right to equality, opportunity and access.

"Those three words are really about civil rights, and that's why we're here today," said Andrew Imparto, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "People with disabilities have a right to be full participants in all aspects of society, and we need leadership from the top."

Sen. Hillary Clinton was the first presidential hopeful to address the day-long forum sponsored by Granite State Independent Living. She promised to reinstate her husband's executive order calling on federal agencies to hire 100,000 people with disabilities in five years and said she would get rid of federal rules that cut benefits for people with disabilities when they get jobs. She also proposed a $1,000 tax credit to offset transportation costs people with disabilities face in getting to work.

"When I am president, my White House will welcome you. Our government will be a partner with you, and new opportunities will be open to you," she said.

Sen. Joe Biden took a broader approach, arguing that the power of the presidency lies not in issuing executive orders or proposing legislation but in using the bully pulpit to remind the public about the nation's core values, including equality and dignity for all.

"Too often in our society, those of us in power, particularly this president, remain silent, and there's somehow an equation made between the worth, the capacity and the potential of someone who is wheelchair-bound ... and their self worth," he said.

Sen. Chris Dodd described his longtime support for disability rights, from co-sponsoring the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1975 to sponsoring and then fighting for years to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, which he said was inspired by the family of a young Connecticut girl with disabilities.

He was introduced by his sister, Carolyn, a retired school teacher who is legally blind.

"These issues that are being discussed here today are personal. They reach deep into my family, they reach deep into my experience as a young adult and as a member of the United States Congress over the last quarter century," he said. "I haven't learned about them through a briefing book, quite candidly, or a meeting in my office, but through friends, acquaintances, family and my own sister."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Sen. Mike Gravel also were scheduled to appear, along with former Sen. John Edwards' campaign manager. Sen. John McCain, the lone Republican to accept the invitation, planned to participate by phone.
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