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Friday, July 24, 2015

Bush 41 and Disability

Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi writes at The Huffington Post:
President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41) cares deeply about disability issues. Pre-ADA, as Vice President, he met with disability leaders. According to the outstanding new book Enabling Acts by Lennard J. Davis, Bush spoke of his personal experiences with disability with his brother Prescot, who was born with the use of only one eye; his uncle John Walker, who had polio, his daughter, who died in infancy of leukemia; his son Neil, who was severely dyslexic; and his son Marvin, who had had a colostomy as a result of ulcerative colitis just a few months earlier at the age of 21. At the time, Bush 41 did not personally have any disabilities. But he took what he learned from experiences of loved ones around him for good. He was a champion for, and the signer of, the ADA.

Every disability leader is grateful to Bush 41 for the ADA. What many don't know, however, is the many other ways he championed the cause of people with disabilities. For example, when Gallaudet, a university for people who are deaf, refused to install leaders with hearing impairments, Bush 41 personally interceded. He wrote a letter to the board of trustees urging them to "set an example... appoint a president who is not only highly qualified, but who is also deaf." The battle was pivotal for the entire disability community. When 2500 Gallaudet students and allies marched to Capitol Hill it inspired disability leaders around the world. The result was that I. King Jordan, a deaf candidate for the job, was selected to lead the college. Phil Bravin, also Deaf, was named chairperson of the board of trustees. 41 had been a part of the revolution.

When George H.W. Bush ran for President he also actively campaigned for the votes of people with disabilities. Unlike Governor Mitt Romney, who never mentioned people with disabilities the entire time when he ran for president and lost, Bush 41 listed "disability" into the list of identities that make up the national idea of diversity. He actively reached out to voters with disabilities and their loved ones. He put qualified leaders including Madeleine Will, in positions to help people with disabilities.