WASHINGTON – Rep. Jim Langevin, who is paralyzed from the chest down, presided over the House for the first time on Monday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Rhode Island Democrat, who in 2000 was the first quadriplegic elected to the House, used a newly installed mechanical lift system to gain access to the speaker’s podium.
Langevin, 46, has used a wheelchair since being paralyzed as a teen. The Disabilities Act opened access to public places and to employment for people with physical and mental handicaps.
Langevin said his temporary turn wielding the gavel marks an important step for people with disabilities and he hopes it inspires others.
“What a powerful symbol of inclusion and opportunity for anyone who wants to serve in the United States Congress,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday. Congress has become increasingly accessible in the past decade for people with disabilities, he added.
Langevin was paralyzed as a 16-year-old Boy Scout cadet working with police in Warwick, R.I. He was in a locker room watching officers examine a gun they thought was unloaded, when the weapon accidentally fired. A bullet ricocheted off a metal locker and severed Langevin’s spinal cord.