Remarks before the Concert in Support of Equal Opportunity for People with Disabilities

Ambassador Bell opens the concert. (Embassy photo: Vera Kovács)
Ambassador Bell opens the concert. (Embassy photo: Vera Kovács)

Good evening, everyone.  I am very pleased to be here with you tonight for a very special concert and I would like to thank the organizers – Harmony Foundation and the Fulbright Commission and, personally, Rita Hoffmann and Maria Flamich for inviting us to be a part of it.  What you are about to hear touches on a lesser known episode in life of the great Johann Sebastian Bach whose music I – and I’m sure all of you – adore very much.  One of his twenty children, Gottfried Heinrich, became “feeble-minded” (mildly mentally handicapped in some way) at an early age, but he played the keyboard well and his older brother, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, is quoted as saying that he showed “a great genius, which however failed to develop”.  Relatively little is known about Bach’s interactions with his children.  However, all evidence indicates that it was a loving family where mutual support was as much a norm as was music.  The story we are about to hear, fictional as it might be, reminds us of those who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, their dignity and human rights.

This year the United States celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed into law on July 26, 1990 – a milestone document that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.  Much progress has been made in the last decades to accommodate citizens with disabilities’ needs – our streets, public transportation, public and private institutions are more accessible to them now.  But still in so many places around the world these people are literally confined to their residences and have to rely on support from others even in daily routine and basic ways, which most of us take for granted.

So today, as we celebrate the European Day of Equal Opportunities, we dedicate our support to equal treatment and access for persons with disabilities.  Not accidentally, this day is also celebrated as the Day of Independent Living, without which equal access and treatment are hardly possible.  I am proud to say that the “Independent Living Movement” to support people with disabilities originated in the 1960s in the City of Berkeley, California – that’s where in 2011 two Hungarian Fulbright scholars, Rita Hoffmann and Maria Flamich, spent an academic year.  The concert tonight is inspired by their experience there.

Thank you and let’s enjoy the concert now.