George H.W. Bush lead the world in recognizing disability rights. People speak about his coalition to retake Kuwait, heroism in World War II and long history of public service.
Perhaps his greatest living legacy, his most enduring act of courage and coalition-building was crafting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), extending civil rights to people who live with disabilities. The ADA impacts the lives of most Americans every day (the extended disability community is most of us).
President Bush compared implementation of the ADA to falling the Berlin Wall: “I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp. Once again we rejoice as this barrier falls for claiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.”
Sadly, disability discrimination and hostility persist. Barriers remain in employment, health care, education, community living and criminal justice. We know that people who are marginalized further by, for example skin color or income, have a compounded struggle to access the simple benefits of the ADA.
In memoriam, let’s commit to disability rights as civil rights. Perhaps join me in celebrating President Bush’s legacy by supporting in his name local disability advocacy groups such as The Arc of Benton County and Disability Rights of Oregon. President Bush lit the ADA freedom torch for us to carry.
John Gotchall, M.D.
Corvallis (Dec. 4)