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NISE Fellow Hari Srinivasan Attends White House’s ADA Event 

Posted by on Friday, October 7, 2022 in FCAI News, News, Uncategorized.

Hari Srinivasan, Neurodiversity in Science and Engineering (NISE) Fellow, was invited to the White House on Wednesday, 28th September. The event celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which President Joe Biden co-sponsored as a bill in 1990.

Image shows an outside shot of the White House. Blue sky can be seen in the upper right hand corner and the image it taken looking up at the pillars in the middle of the structure. Hari stands in the grounds below the building, on a concrete path. A man in a wheelchair wearing a black suit, and a women in a cream dress can be seen conversing in the background.
Hari stands outside of the White House.

This Vanderbilt University neuroscience graduate student shook hands with the president twice and conversed with other guests. He described the experience of visiting the White House as both an ‘honor’ and ‘thrilling on so many levels.’ 

The ADA is a landmark piece of legislation sponsored by Senator Harkin and signed into law by former President George HW Bush. It is primarily a civil rights law that aims to protect those with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of life. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden remembered the bill coming to fruition at the event. After widely televised ‘acts of protest’,  such as eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan casting aside her wheelchair and pulling herself up the steps of Capitol Hill during the ‘Capitol Hill Crawl,’ the bill was passed into law in July 1990.

One of the astonishing political achievements of the ADA, which represents its vast support, was its bipartisan completion. For example, another co-sponsor was Orin Hatch, a long-time Republican. When Senator Hatch passed away in the Spring of 2022, there was an outpouring of eulogies on internet spaces like Twitter from the left and right alike, honoring his contribution to the ADA. Biden acknowledged this in his Rose Garden speech when Hari was present, remarking, “For our country, the ADA is a testament to the character of our people, to the country… it’s proof we can work together and keep moving closer to realizing the promise of America for all Americans.” He also stated his conviction that the ADA is ‘one of the most important civil rights laws ever.’

Image shows a close up of Hari shaking hands with President Biden. Hari's face can be seen to the left of the image focused on his right. President Biden, sporting his often-seen Aviator sunglasses and a blue suit, is to the right hand side of the frame, slightly out of focus, and looking toward Hari.
Hari shakes hands with President Biden.

Blind artist Jose Andre Montano performed at the event, saying, “Life is more wonderful if you love your differences and love who you are; otherwise, life does not make sense.” Hari uses this quote to remind us, “of the toll on mental health due to disability, as one is always playing catch-up to a moving target of what is socially acceptable”.

One may assume that the social aspect of these events present challenges for those on the spectrum. Indeed, Hari remarked feeling comforted that this challenge was not unique to him when by he was told by another neurodiverse guest that it was inherently difficult for many autistics to ‘work the room.’ 

Image is portrait and shows the new portrait of Michelle Obama, hanging in the White House, wearing a blue ballgown with a pink background, she sits, with her left elbow draped onto the side of the chair. Below the portrait, slightly obscuring it's bottom left side, stands Hari, in a black suit with a purple shirt and tie.
Hari and the new portrait of Michelle Obama.

Clearly, this law is important to Hari. “I feel, the fact of ADA being a work in progress needs to be highlighted, as it seems especially relevant to the wide diversity in autism, which means building in flexibility and open-mindedness, as there is not going to be a clear one-solution-fits-all,” said Hari in his blog. This builds on what activist Justin Dart Jr., widely regarded as Godfather of the ADA, and who helped to initially pass the ADA, said at its inception. “[The] ADA is only the beginning, it’s not the solution. It is the center foundation on which solutions will be constructed. 

These quotes capture the need for continual work that has been occurring since the ADA was signed. We all must continue working towards solutions for those with disabilities. A final quote from Hari’s blog: “Thank you, Mr. President, for acknowledging this momentous occasion for all of us disabled folks and being part of its journey right from inception.” Indeed. Thank you, Mr. President. 

A link to Hari’s full blog post can be found here.

The president’s remarks at the event can be found here.

And the White House’s ADA event fact sheet can be found here.