On January 15th, 1998 (Martin Luther King's birthday), in a ceremony in the White House East Room, Justin Dart was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - the highest civilian honour in the U.S.A. There is no disabled person who deserves this more. Justin has been a fighter for human rights and democracy all his adult life. he has witnessed the degradation, segregation and oppression suffered by so many disabled people around the world and has not only given them his love and empathy, but given his time, his energy and whatever resources he could to changing society to ensure that these horrors no longer happened.
In pictures of the great signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act, on the White House lawns in 1990, Justin can be seen sitting in his Texan Stetson hat beside President Bush. Since that achievement Justin has gone on to give all his energies to empowerment and justice for disabled people throughout the world.
DAA is honoured to have him as one of our friends and supporters and would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to him.
Justin himself has asked that the following statement be shared with his colleagues in justice:
"Mr. President has announced that he will give me the Medal of Freedom. I accept this honour not for myself, but as a symbolic representative of the fundamental principles of democracy which I share with the President and with you. Most of all, I accept it as tribute to your sacrifices and dedication over the years for the rights and empowerment of people with and without disabilities. This Medal belongs to each one of you. I am so proud to be one of you. I will fight at your side until the last breath. Lead on. Lead on., I LOVE YOU:"
The words of the formal commendation, that accompanies Justin's medal, offer an appropriate summary:
"He has worked for the independence, inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities. A leading architect of the Americans With Disabilities Act and a driving force behind its passage, he has had a profound impact on the public policy of this Nation. Justin Dart has earned our thanks for helping us recognize the possibility within each individual and for tenaciously advocating equal access to the American Dream for all our people"(This article appeared in Disability Awareness in Action in February 1998 Newsletter 58. Thanks to the generosity of the International Disability and Human Rights Network this article is permitted to be included on the Indepent Living Home page)
"I am here because as I face the end of my life, there is something I have got to say to you. Fifty years of advocacy has brought me to a hard truth.
We humans with or without disabilities will never fully achieve any of our legitimate goals until there is a revolution to eliminate primitive stereotypes, and to establish a culture that focuses the full force of science and democracy on the systematic empowerment of every person to live their full potential.
I propose that we of the disability community lead the revolution of empowerment. We have unique knowledge and experience to offer. We have the responsibility to lead. Truth: The purpose - the first and only legitimate priority of society and its governments is not to govern people and to provide the good life for them, but to empower them - ALL OF THEM - to govern themselves and to provide the good life for themselves and their fellow humans.
Government of the people, by the people, for the people - ALL THE PEOPLE."