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1996 DNC Keynote
August, 26 1996
Christopher Reeve

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very, very much. Well, I just have to start with a challenge to the President. Sir, I have seen your train go by, and I think I can beat it. Iíll even give you a head start.

I know the last few years we hae heard a lot about something called ìfamily values. And like many of you, I have struggled to figure out what that means, and since my accident, I have found a definition that seems to make sense. I think it means that weíre all family, and that we all have value. Now, if thatís true, if America really is a family, then we have to recognize that many members of our family are hurting. And just to take one aspect of it, one in five of us has some kind of disability. You may have an aunt with Parkinsonís disease, a neighbor with a spinal chord injury, or a brother with AIDS, and if youíre really committed to this idea of family, we have got to do something about it.

Now first of all, our nation cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind, and thatís why the Americans with Disabilities Act is so important. It must be honored everywhere. It is a Civil Rights Law that is tearing down barriers, both in architecture and in attitude. Its purpose its purpose is to give the disabled access not only to buildings but to eery opportunity i society. Now, I strongly believe our nation must give its full support to the caregivers, who are helping people with disabilities live independent lives. Now, of course we have to balance the budget, ad we will. We have to be extremely careful with every dollar we spend. But we hae also got to take care of our family, and not slash programs that people need. We should be enabling and healing and curing.

Now, one of the smartest things we can do about disability is to invest i research that will protect us from diseases and lead to cures. This country already has a long history of doing it. When we put our minds to a problem, we find solutions, but our scientists can do more. We have got to give them the chance, and that means more funding for research. Right now, for example, about a quarter million Americans have a spinal cord injury, and our government spends about 8.7 million a year just maintaining these members of our family, but we only spend 40 million a year on research, that would actually improve the quality of their lives, and get them off public assistance, or even cure them. We have got to be smarter and do better. The money we invest in research today is going to determine the quality of life of members of our family tomorrow.

Now, during my rehabilitation, I met a young man named Gregory Patterson. He was innocently driving through Newark, New Jersey, and a stray bullet, from a gang shooting, went through a car window, right into his neck and severed his spinal chord. Five years ago, he might have died. Today, because of research, he is alive, but merely being aliveómerely being alive is not enough. We have a moral and an economic responsibility to ease his suffering and to prevent others from experiencing such pain, and to do that, we donít need to raise taxes. We just need to raise our expectations.

Now America has a tradition that many nations probably envy. we frequently achieve the impossible. Thatís part of our national character. Thatís what got us from one coast to another, thatís what got us thatís what got us the largest economy in the world, thatís what got us to the moon. Now on the wall of my room while I was in rehab, there was a picture of the Space Shuttle blasting off, and it was autographed by every astronaut now at NASA, and on the top of that picture, it says, ìWe found nothing is impossible. Now that that should be our motto. Itís not a Democratic motto, not a Republican motto, itís an American motto. Itís not something one Party can do alone. Itís something we as a nation have to do together. So many of our dreamsóso many dreams at first seem impossible, and then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. So if we can conquer outer space, we should be able to conquer inner space, too. And thatís the frontier of the brain, the central nervous system, and all the afflictions of the body that destroy so many lives, and rob our country of so much potential.

Research can provide hope for people who suffer from Alzheimerís. We have already discovered the gene that causes it. Research can provide hope for people like Muhammad Ali and the Reverend Billy Graham, who suffer from Parkinsonís. Research can provide hope for Americans like Kirk Douglas, who suffer from stroke. We can ease the pain of people like Barbara Jordan, who battled multiple sclerosis. We can find treatments for people like Elizabeth Glaser, whom we lost to AIDS, and now that we know that the spinal cord can regenerate, we are on the way to getting millions of people around the world, millions of people around the world like me, up and out of these wheelchairs.

Now, 56 years ago, F.D.R. dedicated new buildings for the National Institutes of Health. He said that, ìThe defense this nation seeks involves a great deal more than building airplanes, ships, guns, and bombs. We cannot be a strong nation unless we are a healthy nation. He could have said that today. President Roosevelt showed us that a man who could barely lift himself out of a wheelchair could still lift this nation out of despair, and I believe, and so does this administration, in the most important principle. The most important principle that F.D.R. taught us: American does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves. America America is stronger when all of us take care of all of us. Giving new life to that ideal is the challenge before us tonight. Thank you very much. Thank you.