Christopher Reeve's Speech

Text of Christopher Reeve�s speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention, August 26, 1996.

Thank you. Thank you.

Thank you very, very much. Well, I just have to start with a challenge to the president. I've seen your train go by. And I think I can beat it. I'll even give you a head start.

The last few years we've heard a lot about something called family values. And like many of you I've struggled to figure out what that means. And since my accident I found a definition that seems to make sense. I think it means that we're all family. And that we all have value.

Now, if that's 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 have some kind of disability. You may have Parkinson's Disease or a neighbor with a spinal cord injury or a brother with AIDS. And if we're really committed to this idea of family, we've got to do something about it. Now, first of all, our nation cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind.

And that's 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 is to give the disabled access not only to buildings but to every opportunity in society.

Now I strongly believe our nation must give its full support to the care givers who are helping people with disabilities lead independent lives.

Now, of course, we have to balance the budget. And we will. We have to be extremely careful with every dollar we spend. But we've also got to take care of our family. And not slash programs that people need. Now, one of the smartest things we could do about disability is to invest in research that will protect us from diseases, and will 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've 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 billion 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've got to be smarter and do better.

The money we invest in research today is going to determine the quality of life for 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 cord. Five years ago he might have died. Today because of research, he's alive.

But merely being alive, merely 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 don't 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. But that's part of our national character. That's what got us from one coast to another. That's what got us the largest economy in the world. That's what got us to the moon. Now, in my room while I was in rehab, there was a picture of the space shuttle blasting off. It was autographed by every astronaut down at NASA. On the top of that picture it says, "We found nothing is impossible."

Now, that should be our motto. It's not a Democratic motto, not a Republican motto. It's an American motto. It's not something one party can do alone. It's something we as a nation have to do together.

So many of our dreams, so 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 that's the frontier of the brain, the central nervous system and all the afflictions of the body that destroys so many lives and rob our country of so many potential.

Research can provide hope for people who suffer from Alzheimer's. We've already discovered the gene that causes it. Research can provide hope for people like Muhammad Ali and the Reverend Billy Graham who suffer from Parkinson's. Research can provide hope for the millions of Americans like Kirk Douglas who suffer from stroke. We can ease the pain of people like Barbara Jordan who battle Multiple Sclerosis. We can help people like Barbara Glazer.

Now we know the nerves of the spinal cord can regenerate. We are on our way to helping millions of people around the world, millions of people around the world like me, up and out of these wheelchairs.

Now, 56 years ago, FDR dedicated new buildings for the National Institutes of Health. He said that "The 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 FDR taught us. America does not let its needy citizens fend for themselves.

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.

Converted to HTML by Renette Davis. Send comments to here by clicking here.

Last updated: Dec. 5, 2010