Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Disability Scoop has exclusive interview with Kareem Dale

From the intro to the Disability Scoop interview:

In February Vice President Joe Biden announced the selection of Kareem Dale as the first ever special assistant to the president for disability policy.

Now, in an exclusive interview with Disability Scoop, Dale defends the president following his misstep on The Tonight Show last week and talks about what’s next in the administration’s plans for people with disabilities.

Disability Scoop: What is your role as special assistant to the president for disability policy?

Kareem Dale: I sit in the office of public liaison here at the White House and also sit in the Domestic Policy Council working on disability policy. I’m responsible for disability outreach to the community, letting the community know what’s going on and the administration related to disability issues and disability policy.

I’m also responsible for making sure that folks with disabilities are included into what we do here at the White House in terms of public events like inviting people to participate in our regional health care summit or fiscal summit or (bill) signings such as the stem cell signing, SCHIP legislation signing and things of that nature. Also, working from the policy angle and making sure the policy folks know about the real important policy issues as related to education and employment for people with disabilities.

Disability Scoop: I understand that you have a visual impairment yourself. What does it mean to be a person with a disability serving the Obama administration in this capacity?

Kareem Dale: To me it means that the president understands that in order for there to be really good representation for people with disabilities, it generally starts with a person with a disability working at the White House. Now, that’s not always the case. There are plenty of great advocates for people with disabilities who are not themselves people with disabilities. But it says a lot that we have actually two people with disabilities here at the White House working on disability issues, a total of three but two who are with disabilities. And, it means a great deal that President Obama has shown faith in me to help drive his vision for the community for people with disabilities with the first time a person who is blind is working in the White House at a senior level.

Disability Scoop: Does the government have a responsibility to people with disabilities? If so, to what extent?

Kareem Dale: Sure, the government should play a role and a responsibility for people with disabilities, just as the government has a role really for all Americans. It’s not really different than it is for non-disabled persons than it is for persons with disabilities. And that’s to make sure that people with disabilities are integrated and included into the overall effort of the government across federal agencies and at the White House. That really is the goal — to make sure that folks with disabilities are integrated and included into what we’re doing and not segregated out and separated into silos. And so that is the responsibility of the government to make sure that what they’re doing includes people with disabilities at every level.

Disability Scoop: President Obama’s comment about Special Olympics on The Tonight Show last week brought stereotypes of people with disabilities to the surface. What should people with disabilities take away from that episode?

Kareem Dale: To me, what people should take away from that is the response by President Obama and the administration. Number one, President Obama, before the event even aired, personally called Tim Shriver (chairman of Special Olympics) from Air Force One to personally apologize to Tim for the comments that he made. Obviously, there was no intent in the comments, no intent or ill will by President Obama. He quickly apologized.

There was a written statement that quickly went out from Air Force One by Deputy (Press) Secretary Burton apologizing for the comments. Number three, I think overall what’s very interesting about that day is that earlier that day I think, there was a town hall out in California where the president was asked a question about disabilities and I think his answer is frankly more illustrative of his positions on people with disabilities. It was a spontaneous question and a spontaneous answer. He talked about the whole idea that folks with disabilities need to be included and integrated into all federal government agencies, across agencies and not siloed out. And, there needs to be a comprehensive plan for people with disabilities in these federal agencies related to employment and other key issues such as health care and education, etc.

And so when you look at the comments, they were off-handed comments. The president certainly was sorry about it; he immediately apologized. But when you look at his overall record for people with disabilities in this administration and things he’s already done in terms of appointing three people in the White House, in terms of the SCHIP legislation signing, stem cell research, what he’s already done, I think his record speaks for itself and I think that’s the message that folks should take away from it.