WASHINGTON — Actor and disability rights advocate Selma Blair on Monday helped President Joe Biden mark the legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, displaying a touch of the comedic timing that made her a star in Hollywood hits like “Legally Blonde” and “Cruel Intentions.”
Blair, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2018, walked together with Biden to a ceremony on the White House’s south lawn with her cane and her service dog, an English Labrador named Scout.
When she reached the stage, she told Scout, “down” and “good boy.” As he lay near Biden’s feet, the president started to bend down to pet Scout, but Blair looked over and said, “yeah, stay.” That caused Biden to straighten up to full attention.
“I feel so powerful all of a sudden,” laughed Blair. Then, indicating a handheld microphone in addition to the one she was using affixed to the podium, she said, “I don’t need this. This is for someone else, correct?”
“It’s for me,” Biden said, prompting Blair to respond, “OK, the real guy.”
Blair, 51, is known for a number of memorable late ’90s/early ’00’s movie roles and her modeling career. In recent years she’s become a leading face of disability rights, calling herself Monday “a proud disabled woman.”
Blair told a crowd of advocates attending the ceremony, “Although I’d had symptoms since the age of 7, it took a lifetime of self-advocacy to finally lead me to a diagnosis at age 46, after living most of my life in pain and self-doubt.”
She said Judy Heumann, a renowned activist who helped secure passage of the legislation protecting the rights of disabled people being celebrated Monday and who died in March at age 75, “Taught me my worth.”
“The push towards equity continues,” Blair said. “Our laws and policies must reflect that our disabled lives are not of lesser value.”
Biden also hailed Huemann, noting that, “History shows it’s often not the people in power, but the power of the people that move the country forward.”
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prevents discrimination against disabled people on everything from employment to parking to voting.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and Biden noted both bills received bipartisan support when clearing Congress.
“These laws are a source of opportunity, meaningful inclusion, participation, respect, and, as my dad would say, the most important of all, dignity,” Biden said. “Be treated with dignity. Ensuring that the American dream is for all of us, not just for some of us.”