OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
|OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
||ONE JUDICIARY SQUARE
441 FOURTH STREET, N.W. SUITE 1100
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20001
|Text as Prepared for Delivery
May 31, 2000
|Contact: Peggy Armstrong
Mayor Anthony A. Williams
Welcome Address to the American Association on Mental Retardation
Thank you for having me. I'm proud to be here
to welcome you to our Nation's Capital.
It's appropriate that you've chosen to hold
your National Conference here in the District of Columbia. Not only because we are the
Nation's Capital, but also because we are a city confronting the very challenges this
organization is dedicated to addressing.
We also understand that challenges in caring
for persons with disabilities are not unique to our city.
To get some perspective, let me just give you
a few numbers:
- The population of the world is more than 6
- The population of the United States is almost
- Of those people, 300 million worldwide and 7
million in the United States have some form of developmental disability. That's 25 times
as many people as those who are affected by blindness.
Now, sometimes people tend to stereotype me as
a mere "number cruncher" just because I happen to be a card-carrying member of
the Government Finance Officers Association.
But in this case, the numbers are more than
mere statistics. They are people who need our support.
It has been said that the measure of a good
society is not how it treats the strong and prosperous, but how it treats those who are
vulnerable. In the District of Columbia - as has happened in other cities - our government
has failed that obligation.
When I took office, our agency for persons
with mental retardation and developmental disabilities - MRDDA - was fundamentally broken.
More than 20 years of mismanagement, neglect, abuse, and outright fraud have put thousands
of our most vulnerable citizens at risk.
We have learned from painful experience that
our MRDD system is not a system. It is - at best - a collection of broken gears. People
were losing their lives, and no one was there to help.
I am not interested in hearing or making any
excuses. There is no excuse when people die. What I am interested in is making sure that
this kind of breakdown never happens again.
For the last 90 days, we have moved
aggressively to remove the imminent threats to the life and safety of disabled persons.
We are conducting a thorough evaluation of the
medical well being of individuals in the system-something that had never been done. And
when someone dies, it gets referred to the medical examiner.
We have two federal investigators working with
us and we now collect reports on all "unusual incidents" and store them for
analysis and follow-up.
We now require background checks for
employees, and have evaluated all employees for general competencies related to their
positions. Where needed, we are providing immediate, substantive remedial training.
And for the first time in 23 years, the city
is up to date in responding to the courts and court monitor's reports.
We have come a long way in 3 months. But you
cannot reverse 20 years of decline in 90 days. The bottom line is that we still have a
system that is fundamentally broken.
Making our system work will take a long-term
investment-and a commitment from our entire community.
My vision is for our city to become a place
where people with developmental disabilities and their families:
- Are safe, healthy, and secure
- Have explicit rights that are enforced Make
informed decisions about their lives and goals Achieve maximum independence
- Live, work and play in our communities, and
- Are valued for their contributions to the
As a first step, I am sending legislation to
the Council to expand our authority to outsource or use managed competition for most of
the services in this area that government does poorly.
We will restructure, redefine, and reduce the
government's role, focusing our efforts on expanding options for individuals and their
families, and providing the proper oversight and enforcement.
Second, we will create new alternatives to
group homes -- a menu of options to allow individuals to achieve their fullest potential
and to live as independently as possible. I believe our dollars should be spent on people
and not institutions; quality flexible services not bureaucratic apparatus. Third, I will
present strong and effective legislation that provides quality oversight for every person
in our care. An independent monitoring commission, in cooperation with the advocates, will
ensure that all complaints are investigated and that oversight is timely and thorough.
Fourth, and finally, later today I will swear
in members of the D.C. Serious Incident and Fatality Review Committee who will be charged
with monitoring and guarding against the gross negligence that has become all to common in
I don't believe for a minute that all of this
will be easy. But as Woodrow Wilson said, "We do not improve our muscle by doing the
easy thing; we improve our muscle by doing the hard thing."
And we will not be able to do it alone. That's
why I am looking to outside organizations to help provide services that government has
proven unable to provide.
Organizations like this one can also play an
important role. The American Association of Mental Retardation has a long record of
offering leadership in service for the mentally challenged. Your improvements in patient
care have improved the lives of citizens across the United States and 55 countries across
So I would challenge you to visit us in a year
and see what we've done. My Administration is one of action not one of idle discussion.
And I think you'll see that - in 12 months - we're going to be offering better care,
stronger oversight and more education.
And if we are not living up to our
obligations, I hope you'll be our strongest critic.
It boils down to this. Every person has
something to offer. Maybe instead of using the term "persons with disabilities,"
we should say "persons with unrecognized potential."
How can we overlook the human potential of 7
million people? How can we allow so many of our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens
to suffer needlessly when we know we can do better?
It's going to be a challenge. But I see it as
an opportunity. And I'm confident that - as we improve our services - we'll set the
standard of care for our nation. Thank you.