Keith: Welcome to Disability Empowerment Now, season two, I am your host Keith Murfee-DeConcini. Today I'm talking to Tony Coelho, a former House Representative from California's 15th district. Primary sponsor of the Americans with Disability Act in the House, and it's a former chairman and current member of the Board of Directors of the Epilepsy Foundation.
Tony, welcome to the show.
Tony: Thank you, Keith. Great to be with you.
Keith: So, I tried to do a lot of research on you, and I just couldn't seem to do enough. You have lived such a fascinating, and virtual life. My uncle Dennis DeConcini, a former colleague of yours, wanted me to pass along his regards.
Tony: Great, great guy.
Keith: Yeah. Thank you, and he actually recommended, I reach out and interview you since I interviewed him last season and on what it was like during the 1990s in the Senate.
I have wanted to get the House perspective and see what the atmosphere of that time was like.
Tony: Well, it's interesting, Keith, because I think in both the House and the Senate we had people in leadership who had disabilities and spoke to the need for the ADA. You can talk about Bob Dole, of course, but you can go on and on about different people and individuals that have family members with people with disabilities such as, or a church member, or in hatch.
Of course, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy and the Senate side. On the House side, obviously I have a disability and not many people in the House talked about their disability, but what I was interesting when I first put in the bill, I had people come up to me and say, I don't like the way that my mother, my father, my daughter, my son, my next door neighbors are treated because of their disability and I wanna support your bill. Now, most of 'em never didn't know what was in the bill, but they just understood that there was discrimination.
They wanted to be supportive of it, and we got a lot of support from members. The problem was the industries who came after us, it wasn't the members. We did have a problem in the Public Works Committee in the House which Greyhound had lobbied hard and didn't want to pass, and we only adopted it by a 21/20 vote.
There's a lot of stories as to how we got that done but the basic thing was, it passed in the House overwhelmingly and then when the Supreme Court ruled that the ADA only covered people with physical disabilities and nothing else, then we put in legislation to amend the ADA and we got that passed practically unanimously by the House and the Senate quickly because people understood that disability isn't restricted only to people with physical disability.
So, the atmosphere in the House of Representatives those days was bipartisan. I had talked to Newt Gingrich who was one of the leaders in the Republican side and he agreed that he would have somebody from the Republican side work with us in regards to the legislation, and he chose Steve Bartlett from Dallas and Steve was the one who negotiated with Hoyer, who was the house person leading the effort and we had bipartisanship going all the way through. It didn't become a party political issue.
It became, you know, a lot of businesses felt that it was unfair and so on, but we worked our way through all that. But that's different than today. Everything is partisan, policy wise. I mean, party wise and, and you can't get it done. I don't think the ADA would be passed today if it came up. I'm working on an issue now with the hearing impaired and the site impaired communities in regards to making the internet accessible, and that is also for people with physical disabilities as well and so that's the next one. It's much harder to get that through because of the politics and the partisanship that has come up, but we're working on that and we'll see whether or not we can get it done.
Keith: Absolutely. And that remains one of the biggest issues, a website’s accessibility that ironically had the internet call this is just my opinion, had the internet been formed in 1985. The ADA passed in 1990 or had the ADA been passed in ‘95, and the internet came alive in 1990.
Tony: But Keith, lemme tell you something. Lemme tell you something. I have a very firm position on this. I think the ADA does cover the Internet. I strongly believe that because it talks about interstate commerce and so forth. And so some of the courts have ruled that the ADA does cover the Internet. One of the pizza companies took it all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Yeah, and other courts have ruled that it isn't included. So what we're doing is we are working with the administration for rules and regulations on this issue and saying that the Internet is included under the ADA and the administration hopefully will get that done by the end of 2023. At the same time, we're working on legislation that was just put in by Tammy Duckworth on the Senate side and congressmen on the House side.
So that is also to say that in effect, this issue needs to be or should be covered by the law. Now I'm not sure we need it. If the administration comes through with 2023, we're gonna push it anyway. Now, it depends on what happens in November. If the House or the Senator both go Republican, not being partisan here, I'm just saying that they have been against, lately, all of our disability issues.
That wasn't true when the ADA passed. Bob Dole was the majority, yeah, majority leader in the Senate. No, the minority leader in the Senate and Ted Kennedy was the chairman of the health laborer and health committee. But today there was an attempt by the Republicans in the last time they had the house to gut the ADA.
And it passed, it passed the house. And so we are conscious of what could happen in November.
Keith: Yes. So let's rewind to your childhood. What was it like growing up with a disability before the ADA was even a twinkle in a legislative eye?
Tony: Well, let me start with what happened to me when I was 16. I was riding in a pickup truck on our dairy farm, and It crashed in and I hit my head and everything was fine. I just had a headache and nothing material at that. I was okay.
And a year later, I had my first seizure. So when we talk about concussions today, that's sort of what probably happened to me, and so I had my first seizure. The doctors told my family that I had Epilepsy or it appeared. My family being Catholic and Portuguese, they felt that because of what the church taught, that if you had Epilepsy you're possessed by the devil you could not be a priest.
And so, my family took that to mean that I was possessed, and so I went to other doctors, they all said the same thing. Never told me by the way and then I went to witch doctors because that's how they thought they could get rid of these seizures, or passing out spells. We called it, and so, I went to three different witch doctors and none of them cured it, obviously.
And so then, what happened is that I kept on having my passing out spells and I didn't do anything until I was in college and I decided to become a Catholic Priest, and after my physical, the doctor said, look there is good news and bad news. The good news is your 4F, you can't serve in Vietnam.
The bad news is the Catholic church says that you can't be a priest because of your epilepsy. Well, I was feeling okay because the doctor knew what my problem was, right? And it could give me medication. But then all these, I had all these job offers cuz I was student body president, outstanding senior, and so forth.
And I would go ahead and reply to their offer. The word Epilepsy was on every job application, and once I checked it, I never even got an interview. It started to hit me pretty hard because my family rejected it. Then, I felt God had rejected me and I felt the church had, and I became suicidal.
I didn't know what to do and I struggled with that, and one day, I was about to do the dirty deed. I heard a voice that said to me, you're gonna be just like those little kids on the merry go round at the bottom of this hill, you're not gonna let anybody or anything stop you from doing what you wanna do.
Waba. I've never been depressed since. I've never had a problem. I've been back to my old go get a mode as a result of that. And I then ended up living with Bob Hope and his family for a year. And he told me, he said, Look it, you think you have a ministry? And you think it only can be practiced in a church or whatever.
A true ministry is practiced in sports, entertainment, business and in government, and, but you belong in politics. And that's how I ended up getting into politics. So I had a rough spell there because of the stigma. That was attached to my disability and to all disabilities, as you know. And so, but I came out of it and I still have seizures.
I'm 80 years old and I've had seizures for over 60 years and so it is just part of my life. But I've also, even though I have a disability, even though I have seizures, I've been able to be very successful in different walks of life, because you shouldn't let your disability shouldn’t stop you from dreaming and stop you from trying to do what you wanna do.
Keith: Yes. Absolutely. So you mentioned that living with Bob Hope and his family and their encouragement motivated you to pursue a life in politics, which you eventually did. But at the time, you mentioned just a second ago that on every job application Epilepsy was there and once you checked it, you never even got an interview.
I would assume that running for political office could, particularly at the time you first ran, you were a maverick.
Tony: Let me tell you what happened. So, I went with Hope's advice. I then wrote a letter to my congressman, got a job, worked for him for 13 years, and developed a reputation in his congressional district. When he decided to retire, he wanted me to run, and I did.
My opponent basically, one night was speaking at a dinner event and he said, I don't know if you know it or not, but Tony is a very sick man. He has Epilepsy and what would you think if he went to the White House to argue a critical issue for us? Water, which is a huge issue in the West, as you know, so argued a critical issue for us water, and had a seizure? Well several people there at that dinner called me and were very upset with what he said. Yeah. And the next day a reporter called me and said, your opponent said X, what's your reaction? And I said, well, in the 14 years I worked in Washington, I knew a lot of people who went to the White House and had fits, at least I'd have an excuse and that killed it.
Nobody else has ever attacked my epilepsy again. And the People magazine picked it up and did a feature article on me and so forth. So it was, it was a good way of just batting it away, but it tells you how disabilities are something that people take negatively and assume you can't do something because of your disability. And right now in Pennsylvania there's the issue in regards to Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, who had a stroke and is using an accommodation, in regards to understanding what the question might be, and NBC, did a whole thing on it, but they focused on his accommodation as opposed to whether or not he could be a good senator and so forth. So I'm blasting away on that because, I think it is the stigma that we face people, you know, if you wear a hearing aid, that's an accommodation. Yeah. Do they focus on that? You know, and so forth. But support, because he had to use an accommodation to understand what was being said, they made it into an issue. So anyway, we still face those problems, Keith, as you well know. And so it's a question of fighting back and not letting it pass.
Keith: So, could you tell us when you first ran?
Tony: Yeah, when I first ran, I won easily, to be honest, because of that approach.
Keith: Which year was that?
Tony: Oh, which year? 1978.
Keith: Wow. Okay.
Tony: And then when I got to the Congress, I realized that I wanted to amend some laws to include disabilities, but it didn't do any good because we didn't have our basic civil rights. People could discriminate against us and not be accused. We couldn't file action against them, we just didn't have our civil rights.
And so I started working with people at the time and that's how I came up with the legislation with Senator White from Connecticut and we introduced the legislation, which then was amended in the next Congress and adopted in 1990. But I didn't realize there was this huge grassroots group going on at the time who were developing the support for it.
Obviously months ago it was introduced, this grassroot support came to me and we worked on the legislation to get it in line more with what needed to be done, but I don't think ADA would've been adopted if it hadn't been for Nickel and a lot of other grassroots folks that were going around the country.
Justin Dart, you might remember that name. Justin went around to all, every state, advocating for the ADA and so forth. So grassroots played a critical role in getting the ADA adopted.
Keith: Why do you think the various stigmas around Disability particularly not well seen or hidden disabilities still exist? I'm not trying to say that people who use wheelchairs or people who use crutches or people who use seeing eye dogs don't get stigmatized. That's not at all what I am saying but where I got my Masters in Public Administration at the U of A.
Their campus is extremely wheelchair accessible and so I'm wondering, and a lot of people know what disability is, through just a logo of a person in a wheelchair and they know what a seeing eye dog is, and a cane red and white is but they get so locked into that perception of disability and I think I just answered my own question, I am sorry. But why do you think various stigmans still exist and what do you think we can do to lessen them?
Tony: Here's what I think has happened is people felt sorry for us who had a disability that was over the years and so forth. Jerry Lewis, for instance, had a Telethon and people would come up, and in their wheelchair and so forth, and he would talk about him, pat him on the head, say, go back in the corner, we're gonna raise money and take care of you. That isn't what we in the disability community want. We wanna be involved in our decision making in regards to us. We are capable of that. Some folks are not, but that isn't the general population of the disability community and so we've had to turn that all around and say, look at, we don't wanna be pitied.
We wanna be helped. I always say, I've said to at least five Presidents, not the last one. I've said, look it, I only know one group in society that wants to pay taxes and it's a disability community. Why? Because if we're paying taxes, we have a job. If we have a job, we can have a home, we can have a car, we can get married and take care of family and so forth and so on.
But it's that sympathy thing that went on for so long and how do you convert that to say, look at my ability. Not my disability. And so with me, I was able to make that transition, but it was with the help of a lot of people that I got there, and we're still working hard on it today. You, bring up the issue, and you're right, a lot of people still look at us and feel that we can't do X.
As opposed to looking at us and you're great at X, Y, and Z and you know, with my disability, I can't fly an airplane. I can't drive an ambulance. I can't drive a police car. There's a lot of things I cannot do, but dammit, there's a lot of things I can do and I can do it better than people who don't have a disability.
And so it's a question of treating us as individuals who are capable of doing things, but getting over that sympathy thing, I mean, that's the real problem that we've had. It's better now but not good, but it's better. And the ADA has helped because we can now go to court and get the courts to rule in regards to businesses or states or cities or whatever, providing, not providing the accommodations they need.
For example, you know, people talk about the curb cuts a lot. What is it? Why is a curb cut there? It's to help people with disabilities in their chairs get on the sidewalk or people with a cane that are side impaired and so forth. But who uses the curb cut? People who are delivering goods to the stores on that block, mothers and fathers with babies and strollers.
It is also young kids who have their roller skates and roller blades and everything else you use, but they're an accommodation for us and ends up being a help to the general populace. And so it's trying to convince people that look at us as people who can accomplish things and do things and then there are some folks in our disability community who can't do things because of the severity of their disability. But there are people in the general population who can't do things because of their reasons as well. So I just, I don't wanna be coddled. I wanna be able to not succeed if you give me the right to fail, then I will have the right to succeed, but if you don't give me the right to fail, I can't succeed, I can't get a job and so forth. So it's a huge problem that we're making progress on. I just, you know, the networks and so forth, I wish they wouldn't concentrate on our accommodations. That they would concentrate on what we can and cannot do.
One of the problems because of what the networks do, is that a lot of people with disabilities don't wanna talk about their disability cuz they're afraid they'll get fired, they'll afraid they can't succeed in a business or for political office and my thing is, I want it to, to come to a point where we can talk about a disability.
And not have people be negative because of it, but that takes effort.
Keith: Yeah. It does. And I mean, I couldn't say that any better. So let’s go back again. We talked, you talked a little bit about your parents reaction to learning you have Epilepsy and your families reaction. If you can remember, how did your peers react to your disability?
Tony: Well, they felt that I was possessed and they felt sorry for me and coddled me so that I couldn't do things and so forth, which I deeply resented. But they felt that way and they hurt me tremendously by their negativism towards my disability, but when I got elected to Congress, or no, when I was running, Yeah. When I got elected to Congress after a couple years, the Washington Post was doing a huge article on me and they basically, I talked about what I'm talking to you about now and so this reporter submitted the article, the editor, the long article, the editor and the editor rejected it because I talked about my parents and the reporter had not talked to my parents and so the editor said we can't go with it because he says a lot about his problems with growing up in his family.
So he called me, the reporter called me and said, do you mind if I call your parents? And I said, no, I don't mind at all I think you should, but I have no idea what they're gonna say and so he called in. 40 minutes later, he called me and he said, you won't believe the conversation I just had with your mother.
She said that she acknowledged that they coddled, they were concerned and so forth, and they realized that they hurt me and they were sorry, but didn't know how to apologize to me, how to come to me and say that they were sorry, and so I immediately called and then I was in Washington, flew out to California to meet with them and so forth.
But you know, that was tough for them. I wish I'd known that they were struggling with it cuz we could have gotten together sooner. But the point is, you go through this and what is happening today, a lot of parents are advocates for their children with disabilities as opposed to coddling and pushing 'em aside ' or whatever. And so a lot of progress was made in a lot of these areas. As I say, it's still not good. It's still a lot more that needs to be made.
Keith: Yeah. Do you remember what your peers thought of your disability and did that change over time as you progressed to grade school, middle school, high school and college?
Tony: Well see, I didn't have any seizures until I was 16. So that would've been high school. And it was interesting. My seizures always occurred in the afternoon. And so, we would, you know, we had a dairy farm and I milked cows all the time and so I would have a seizure and then my brother would carry me into the house and so forth.
But I never had one in school that I recall, to be honest. I did have 'em later in public. As I went out and so forth, but I didn't, you know, I didn't know what it was, so it, I didn't know that it was a disability. I didn't know what was causing it and I was concerned about being possessed because that's what I was brought up to believe.
And so it was a situation where you hid it right and so I didn't get the, my mojo on doing this until after I was suicidal and so forth and at that point, I was aggressively open with my family and with everybody. I just feel strongly about being open about my disability and I like to point out the things I can't do, but point out the things I can do and have done.
Keith: Yes. That's very important. So, you talked a few minutes ago about the sympathy that people often have regarding disability and how that has encouraged, ironically discrimination but is sympathy the root cause? I mean the term abelism is just defined as discrimination against people with disabilities societal, cultural, employment wise. Of course every level. I have no doubt that sympathy and over sympathy is the cause of some discrimination but there has to be more than that at the root causes of stigma and abelism. What are your thoughts on that?
Tony: Don't forget that in most of our time, parents hid their kids with disabilities and so you could look at that and say sympathy, or you could look at it and say embarrassment. You could look at it in all different types of ways, but that is what happened, is that parents with children with disabilities most of the time tried to hide it and my parents basically didn't want me to go to do different things cuz I might have a seizure in public.
I look at it now and I don't think that they were trying to hurt me. I think they were trying to protect me. It hurt me and I felt very strong about it. I've always said that I don't respect them for what they did, but I know that they did it out of love and so I acknowledged that.
But that whole empathy for us got carried away in all these years and we had to, those of us in the disability community had to aggressively fight it and still are, but aggressively fight it to turn it around. And we've made great progress. I don't deny that, but there's still a lot more to do because, you know, as I point out today one of the networks has taken on a candidate for his disability.
I've gone after them because of it, because they are playing up the fact that his accommodation is what they're worried about. I say, you know, ask any question you want about their health, but why are you making the accommodation an issue? In this case, he was having his questions captioned so that he knew exactly what was being asked, but he could speak and he could talk about it and everything else, but they focused on the computer that was where the words were coming through.
Now, I always say, look it. If you were wearing a hearing aid and you took it off, you wouldn't be able to hear either. So you have to have something, some accommodation to help you understand, Well, that's all he was doing. Do you think that he would be a horrible senator just because he needs accommodation?
Uh, I don't think so. I think that a lot of people with disabilities, look at Roosevelt, look at Bob Dole, look at a lot of people with disabilities have been very successful in business, in politics and so forth. So that's what we've gone through. I openly talk about it because I think it's important to hit stigma really hard and to acknowledge that parents out of love, have handicapped us. How do we get around that? And more and more parents now are fighting for us. That is what we need. That's the turnaround that we need.
Keith: Yes I agree with you fully. I know my mother has fought tooth and nail for me growing up and still does, to some degree.
So tell me, how did you first hear and get involved with the Epilepsy Foundation? And when you became chair, what was that experience like?
Tony: When I was a staffer in Congress, I contacted the Epilepsy Foundation and said I'd like to help and so forth. They never contacted me. They didn't say no, they didn't even acknowledge me, nothing.
But when I got elected I, you know, with the ADA and everything else I was doing, I got on the Epilepsy Foundation board. And what I realized there was that there were no individuals with Epilepsy on the board. There was no individual with Epilepsy in the management of the foundation. And so I made a motion that people with Epilepsy need to be on the board and not everybody, but need to be on the board.
And then I moved later that somebody with Epilepsy had to be either chair or vice chair of the board. And so when I did the first one, there were doctors on the board. And there were parents on the board and so forth. So one of them said to me, Well, what about parents? Are you saying that we shouldn't be on the board?
I didn't say that. You misunderstood what I said. I said, I think that people with disabilities should be on the board. Of course, doctors should be on. Of course, parents should be on it. Of course, people who are interested in Epilepsy should be on, but we should be on it as well. You shouldn't be making these decisions without us at the table to be able to talk about it.
So that was the fight that I had and when I was chair, we basically had gotten through that. We started having people with disabilities. We now have several people on the board that have Epilepsy and the current chair of the board is an individual who has Epilepsy and his father had Epilepsy and his son has Epilepsy.
And so he sees it from all the different phases and so forth. So we've made great progress there. But I'll tell you what, at the very beginning it was, I'll protect you, I'll take care of you. Just step aside. And we've had to, and that's true with a lot of different disabilities, but it was definitely true of the Epilepsy Foundation.
Keith: So how long have you been involved with the Epilepsy Foundation?
Tony: Oh, I'll bet that it's something like 30 years or something like that. I don't know exactly the number of years, but it's been a long time. I am not on it now. I think that younger people should be engaged there, but I'm still very involved with the foundation in doing different things.
It was a great experience. It was a growth for me to understand the different parts of the movement. In other words, from the doctors, from the researchers, from the people who advocate for us and so forth. And so that was very helpful to me beyond that board to understand it. It made me grow, which I always liked to do.
Keith: So you mentioned at the start of the interview that getting the ADA amendments passed was relatively easy. Go back to that and tell me more about what you think changed in the then political atmosphere and environment that may or may not have been there when the ADA itself was being debated in the 1990s?
Tony: Well, what happened is that ADA was adopted. Then there are lawsuits that go in place and it ends up going through the court system and it went to the Supreme Court and the court, the Supreme Court was made up of a lot of older folks, primarily white men and one woman at the time. They decided the ADA applied to what they knew as opposed to what I felt the loss in.
And they knew people with disabilities based on what they could see. People, physically, people who had a cane inside impaired and so forth and that's what they understood. So they ruled that it only applied to those disabilities and not the broader thing. Well, as soon as that happened, I can tell you what I did.
I immediately met with the Epilepsy Foundation Board. I was on the board and we agreed. And I don't know what my position was on the board at the time, but we agreed that we were gonna lead the fight to say all disabilities are what the ADA's all about. So then we got support in the house and the Senate of members who felt that's what they intended.
So it was, we went through the committee process and so forth, but it was easy because people felt that it included all disabilities and so it was not difficult. It was opposed to what the Supreme Court had decided, and so we just had to go through the process and pass a law that says, you know, you folks on the Supreme Court are wrong.
ADA does cover all disabilities, and we passed it and we overruled the Supreme Court decision, but we were aggressive. We had the whole community behind us. Those that were the court ruled were covered. Those folks agreed that the rest of the disability community is supposed to be covered.
So it was, I say relatively easy and it really was, It passed quickly. The interesting thing is, you know, Papa Bush's, I call him, was the one who signed the ADA, then his son W is the one who ended up signing the ADA amendments act, and so it was bipartisan, quickly bipartisan. Today would not be probably, but it was then.
So it was just a matter of pushing it through, but we had the votes.
Keith: So what surprises me and a lot of advocates nowadays in it has for quite some time is that some businesses and you mentioned a pizza company early on, that wasn’t in compliance. You know, Tony, it's been over 30 years, I think.
Keith: 32 years. Why are business, and not all of them, but let’s be honest, the vast majority really struggle with getting up to code, to use that phrase. The ADA isn't a new law. It's not a few years, it's not five, it's, If it was a person, it would be way past the legal age to drink.
Tony: I think the issue, Keith, is this, the ADA is a piece of paper. Right. The only way the ADA becomes effective is if there's enforcement of it. Yeah. So what does that mean? That means that the Justice Department, the Deputy Attorney General in charge of Civil Rights and the head of the Civil Rights Division have to be willing to enforce the law.
So over those 32 years, we've had some administrations who aggressively fought it. Fought for it, I'm sorry. And then others who didn't do anything. So if you don't do anything, it's like being opposed. But those that aggressively pushed it filed action against companies and cities and towns and so forth.
And so like right now there is aggressive, it's the most aggressive enforcement of the ADA that I've seen over all the 30 years. The Assistant Attorney General who's in charge of the Civil Rights Division, she's amazing. She's aggressive about it. She doesn't have a disability, she just feels it's right.
And so she's constantly filing action against companies, cities, states, whatever. So it takes that. It's who, when you vote, it's important who you vote for, because to enforce the disability ADA, you have to have a president that hires or appoints somebody as Attorney General who believes in the ADA and is willing to push it and so forth to get companies to comply.
So that's, you know, that's politics, you know? Yeah. That's the government. So we, if we have the right people in place, we get enforcement. We've made a lot of progress on that, but there is still reluctance to do things if they don't have to and that's what we fight.
But again, vote the right way. Vote with people that, you know, wanna enforce the ADA, and we'll get there because the law is the law, but enforcement is critical.
Keith: Do you think that just like, the vast majority look at a person in a wheelchair or a person with a seeing eye dog and assume that is what disability is. Do you think that a lot of businesses see a ramp or see an elevator or an accessible bathroom stall as the end all be all and all of the accessible requirements of the ADA, and what can we do about that in this day and age?
Tony: Well, the real issue here, Keith, is look, look at the jobs that people with disabilities don't have. We are less employed than any other group in society, which means somebody's discriminated against us, somebody's not helping us get a job so that we can perform.
Like I said before, I wanna pay taxes and everybody with a disability wants to pay tax cuz that means we have an income, If we're not paying taxes doesn't mean we have an income. So, the question is how do we get the jobs and what I've done basically and actively involved in, in a company called Bender Consulting Services, that we try to meet with the CEO of a company.
Because if you go lower than that, they're always trying to protect the company and blah blah blah and all that stuff. If you go to the CEO and convince him, he or she can say, we wanna hire people with disabilities, and we make progress on that. Plus the other thing that's happening because people are willing to acknowledge their disability, they're looking for jobs.
Where in the past they were afraid to because they didn't wanna tell people they had a disability. So all that is changing. That's a cultural change that is happening in our community. And the enforcement on the other side is a change as well. So I'm one of those who says, you know, we're not there yet.
But damn, we're fighting like hell to get there and we'll get there because our community will not sit back and not be engaged.
Keith: So you mentioned at the start of the interview that friends encouraged you and motivated you to get involved in politics and later run, which you did. In case there are any advocates listening to this interview that want to get more involved, more engaged in politics, but are unsure of some of the most effective ways to do so.
Tony: I think the most effective way is to go work for a campaign. Get involved in the process now, understand what is going on, and defend whatever you're doing, but there's pros and cons, but to understand what it takes. Then if you can do that, you then hopefully have a following that will want you to advance.
A young fellow, I have this disability center in Los Angeles that I've started and we have fellows in effect and well, my encouragement for them is to go through law school and ultimately get on state and federal courts, but also I want you to go through law school and go to work for a company or go to work for an advocacy group or go on a court and basically it's your willingness to get engaged, your willingness to find out one of the kids that and we don't have an age limit, it's sort of whoever wants to be involved but one of the individuals decided based on hearing me all the time, decided that he wanted to run for office and so he ran for office for mayor of a city, and he did extremely well. He didn't win and I was coaching him. I said, I want you to win, but if you don't win, take it as a positive because all of a sudden you've educated a lot of people.
You got support and so forth. So that's a positive. So what happened? He did that. He did a good job. The mayor then asked him to be one of his advisors on a group that he had together and so forth, and he's joined things in the city now that he would never have done before. So it's your willingness to get engaged in a campaign.
Your willingness to explore that becomes critical. And Keith, I have to quit in a minute. I hope I can.
Keith: Yes, thank you. So wrapping up with the last question, I like to think that this podcast reaches both advocates with disabilities and people who have yet to discover their disabilities and that those two different groups would possibly take away different things from this interview, so you being the guest and having the last word. What would you hope that advocates with disabilities take away from their interview? And what do you hope that people who have yet to discover their disabilities would also take away from that?
Tony: Well, I think the most important thing is to end up loving yourself, to end up believing in yourself. A lot of us with disabilities have a tendency to be negative about what we have. I think eventually you have to decide that you love who you are. I went through suicide, as I said, but I ended up loving who I am, and as a result of that, you end up with a positive attitude about getting something done. And about and building yourself up and so forth. So I advocate that to all the individuals that I help in regards to their disability, is get to that point and nobody stops you. Once you feel good about yourself and your willingness to do this. Are we gonna get things knocked on us? Are we going to fail? Of course we are, but everybody else does too. So we're no different than anybody else, but you have to believe in yourself. And that's the biggest thing that with those of us with disabilities, is that we've been knocked down so long for so many people, different people. That if you don't believe in yourself, you can't get there. So thank you very much for the interview. I appreciate it.
Keith: Thank you very much, Tony stayed safe and I hope you come back soon.
Tony: Happy to. Thank you, Keith. Bye.