Wilmington University Speaker Series
Former Congressman, Tony Coelho
Primary Author of the Americans with Disabilities Act
March 19, 2014
6 — 7:30 p.m.
Doberstein Admissions Center / Auditorium
New Castle Campus
Thank you for attending!
Thank you for attending Wilmington University's most recent speaker series event with Tony Coelho — The Fight for Disability Rights — Then and Now, presented by the University’s College of Business.
Over 150 people showed up for what turned out to be a successful and poignant presentation by former U.S. Congressmen and author of the American with Disabilities Act- Tony Coelho.
Local political and community leaders, guests from the community, students, staff, faculty and alumni listened intently as Coelho recounted the journey of his personal struggles and becoming a voice for the disabled. As he told of his battle with epilepsy and his fight to help the disabled receive fair treatment in employment and beyond, he passionately exclaimed, "Give us the chance to fail."
Questions from the audience included individuals who have personally benefited from the ADA and were interested in learning more about their rights.
Among the dignitaries present were U.S. Senator Thomas Carper; Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Services for the state of Delaware, Rita Landgraf; State Representatives Mike Ramone and Dennis E. Williams; New Castle County Register of Wills Ciro Poppiti III; and Wilmington University President Dr. Jack P. Varsalona.
The Fight for Disability Rights — Then and Now
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. In 2014, the fight for disability rights continues.
In the 1960s, Tony Coelho found out firsthand how a disability could drastically affect a person’s rights. As a young college graduate, he hoped to enter the seminary. However, the requisite medical exam showed that he had epilepsy. As a result of his diagnosis, he was denied entry into the seminary, was denied health insurance, lost his driver’s license, and was estranged from his family. From there began his journey into politics and his role as an advocate for all Americans with disabilities. Mr. Coelho will talk about why he pursued the ADA, where the law stands today, and why he continues to be involved in employment issues for the disabled.
In 1965, Mr. Coelho began his career in politics as a staff member for Congressman Bernie Sisk. When Sisk retired in 1978, Mr. Coelho ran for his seat and won. He was later elected to the five succeeding Congresses, where he served until his resignation in 1989. Mr. Coelho was credited by his colleagues as the primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990. By 1994, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that some 800,000 more people with severe disabilities had found employment than were employed when the ADA was first enacted. Since his retirement from Congress, Mr. Coelho has remained active in the disabilities community. President Clinton appointed Coelho to serve as Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, a position he held from 1994 to 2001; he also served as Vice Chair of the National Task Force on Employment of Adults with Disabilities. Mr. Coelho is a former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Epilepsy Foundation. He is a former chairman and current member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of People with Disabilities.