Historic Lift: Wheelchair-Bound Member Presides Over House

By Alex Pepper

Jul 26, 2010 3:27pm

ABC News’ John R. Parkinson Reports:

It’s not a common salutation spoken between members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

 “Happy anniversary,” Rep. Jim Langevin proclaimed. “Happy Anniversary to you, too!” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer replied.

Today neither congressman is celebrating wedding anniversaries, but rather they are marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This afternoon Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) became the first member in the 230 year history of the Congress to preside over the House of Representatives from a wheelchair, according to the Office of the Speaker. Langevin is the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress, and the House is just now fully wheelchair accessible after undergoing a recent modification to install a lift leading up to the Speaker’s rostrum.

At the age of 16, Langevin was injured while working with the Warwick Police Department in the Boy Scout Explorer program when another cadet’s gun accidentally discharged. A bullet ricocheted off a locker, striking Langevin and severing his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.

“Jim Langevin,  you’ll make history, but more importantly, Jim Langevin will make a statement about how the Americans with Disabilities Act has made a difference, not only for those 50 million people who have what we call a disability, but for all peoples, not only in America, but throughout the world,” Hoyer said.

Langevin, a five-term representative from Rhode Island and co-chair of the Bipartisan Disabilities Caucus, said he remembers clearly what life was like before the ADA – going to movie theaters and having to sit in the aisle, and also recalled how a lack of wheelchair access impacted his decision not to attend Providence College.

“I hope to inspire someone out there today. I hope that they see this today and realize that all things are possible,” Langevin said. “We all have challenges, but if we have single mind and determination, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), one of the original sponsors of the bill which was signed into law by George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, told reporters that passing the legislation was about settling the civil right to “live in the world, get employment, attend sports events, go out with friends to movies, travel, just to live in the real world.”

“The Americans with Disabilities Act has broken down barriers, it has created opportunities and it has transformed lives,” Harkin said. “The Americans with Disabilities Act truly is America at its very best.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) praised the bipartisan efforts of Republicans and Democrats for working together to pass the bill 20 years ago, and on ADA amendments in the interim.

“We’re from Congress, we’re here to help.  We’re not perfect, but sometimes we get it.” Sensenbrenner said. “We’re here today because on this one we did.”

ABC’s Dean Norland contributed to this report

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