There are many inspiring and moving tributes occasioned by the recent death of George H.W. Bush, our 41stPresident who died on last Friday night. I would like to offer my own personal tribute for his lasting mark on persons with disabilities in our country. As many of you know, due to his unfailing efforts in building bipartisan bridges in Congress, President Bush was able to sign in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act, that prohibits discrimination due to disabilities. Going against the oft repeated Republican refrain of ‘deregulation’in government, President Bush supported and signed this bill because it was the just and right thing to do.
In 2008, I began to experience the beginnings in my own life of what would eventually be diagnosed as Primary Lateral Sclerosis, a rare upper-motor neuron disease that would dramatically alter my mobility, requiring the use of a walker, electric scooter and wheelchair. While I was aware of the provisions and requirements of the ADA law as a pastor often involved in remodeling projects that required access accommodation for persons with disabilities (and its added expense!), it was only when I was personally impacted by a disability that I came to fully understand the profound impact of this law in our land.
Prior to this law, such simple things for persons with disabilities such as crossing the street in a wheelchair, communication for the hearing impaired or speech impaired using a telephone or simply attempting to use a public restroom, were cumbersome if not impossible due to the inability of access. Embarrassed by such restrictions, persons with disabilities often withdrew not only for being productive members of the workforce but sadly, began to live in the shadows of life.
The ADA substantially changed this, providing dignified and near-universal access in public spaces. I can’t tell you how important it is to not have to worry if I will have access to a restroom in going to a restaurant or other public space for fear that I wouldn’t be able to maneuver my scooter or electric wheelchair into the restroom! While contractors or owners of public spaces may bristle at times at the expense such accommodation may cost, when you are a person with mobility challenges it is quite simply, priceless!
Such support for this important Bill, is another reflection of the measure of the man who understood that compassion was an indispensable aspect of his character as a leader of integrity. While wielding immense power, those who worked for him unfailingly said that rarely if ever did they hear him belittle, demean or even raise his voice in anger to others, so important was his respect for the important office that he held as President of the United States. Thank you, President Bush!