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Ex-Press Aide Brady to Help the Disabled

Times Staff Writer

Former White House Press Secretary James S. Brady, severely wounded eight years ago this month during an assassination attempt on former President Ronald Reagan, announced Monday that he has accepted an unpaid full-time job as vice chairman of the National Organization on Disability.

In a dramatic gesture, Brady--who uses a wheelchair most of the time--walked with the aid of a cane in slow but steady steps from his wheelchair to a seat at the microphone.

“The Bear is back for good now,” he said, referring to a nickname he received in college “because of the way I look,” which was perpetuated by the Washington press corps. “And you’ll be hearing from me often.”

Recently Retired

Brady, 48, who recently retired from the federal government on disability, said that he has learned first-hand “the frustrations and the cuts and slights” of being disabled.

“You vow then to make it better,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to try to do.”

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The National Organization on Disability, a private, Washington-based group, was formed in 1982 to work to expand the participation of the nation’s 37 million disabled persons in the mainstream of their communities and to enhance public understanding of disabled persons.

“Now that I’m one of those 37 million Americans, I know what it’s like . . . " Brady said. “I want to help the National Organization on Disability sensitize non-disabled people to what it’s like. . . . “

When asked to describe the kinds of daily frustrations he encounters, Brady said: “Like going out for a meal and having no table that my wheelchair fits under,” adding, with a chuckle, “and having them take the table out and chop it up for firewood.”

Brady, whose wife, Sarah, has been active in the gun-control movement, was asked how he felt about recent efforts to curtail assault weapons. “I’ll keep my advice in private,” he said. “But I don’t think you’d have to think hard to know what my advice would be to our new President. Our law enforcement officers say they are outgunned in the streets by assault weapons.”

Brady suffered a near-fatal head wound on March 30, 1981, when John W. Hinckley Jr., attempting to assassinate Reagan, fired several shots at the President as he was leaving a Washington hotel.

Brady, accompanying Reagan, was struck by a bullet that touched his brain’s left frontal lobe before passing into--and critically damaging--the right frontal lobe. As a result, motor functions on his left side were seriously impaired. He cannot use his left arm at all and his left leg is debilitated. However, his thinking functions--his intellect, wit, personality and long-term memory--were largely unaffected.

Brady, who was injured only two months after the beginning of Reagan’s first term, retained the press secretary’s title and salary for Reagan’s two terms, although he was unable to return to work.

“I think the doctors, in the early days, thought Jim needed it to keep him going,” Sarah Brady said in a recent interview. “I think Jim was always hoping he could go back full time.”

She added: “He is capable of filling many positions, but that of White House press secretary was just too mentally and physically demanding.”

She said that she and Brady had talked to President Bush before the inauguration about “Jim’s staying on,” but Brady declined to accept a paid position.

“Jim wants to contribute without feeling like he’s on the public dole,” she said. “He wants to feel his own self-respect by not taking a handout job, even though we know that’s not what President Bush meant.”


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