Today is a day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush. He was a president who served in the military and sought public office after an already distinguished career in public service. President Bush did not seek public office to make a power grab, to glorify himself, or to try and force an ideology down the American public’s throat; he sought office when holding public office was seen as public service, and the officeholder was a public servant whose job was to better the lives of the American people as a whole, not just for the 1%’ers. He believed in civility and tried to make this country a kinder place. My, how we have strayed from these ideals. Regardless of political stripe, we should all be able to help others, which President Bush clearly tried to do.
Nonetheless, today we believe it is important to take note of the law that was championed by President Bush that changed so many people’s lives for the better- the Americans with Disabilities Act. President Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Here are a few words from his speech on that day in 1990:
But tragically, for too many Americans, the blessings of liberty have been limited or even denied. The Civil Rights Act of ’64 took a bold step towards righting that wrong. But the stark fact remained that people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination, and this was intolerable. Today’s legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream. Legally, it will provide our disabled community with a powerful expansion of protections and then basic civil rights. It will guarantee fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy. And then, specifically, first the ADA ensures that employers covered by the act cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Second, the ADA ensures access to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and offices. And third, the ADA ensures expanded access to transportation services. And fourth, the ADA ensures equivalent telephone services for people with speech or hearing impediments.
The ADA is one of our main practice areas. People with disabilities have a harder road in many aspects, but because of a bi-partisan movement and President Bush’s leadership, there is a federal law that protects them in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations. When the Supreme Court consistently chipped away at the protections of the ADA, President Bush’s son- President George W. Bush- signed the ADA Amendments Act into law in September 2008, as one of his last legislative achievements. Irrespective of how you feel about either President Bush, these were significant and helpful legislative achievements for many people.
Civil Rights for people with disabilities should not be a partisan issue, but it has become one. Just last year when meeting with a Tennessee State Senator about strengthening the Tennessee Disability Act to make it consistent with federal law (as I have been doing for several years now), I was told by state Senator Jack Johnson that any amendments would not happen if it could cost the state a dime, he then proceeded to spew nonsensical arguments pushed by the Chamber of Commerce and the NFIB, which demonstrated where his bread is buttered, but not where his heart should be. The amendment to the TDA is important because: 1) the TDA does not provide for reasonable accommodations and; 2) the ADA does not apply to the state. What this means is that state employees who have disabilities have very few rights or protections- and nowhere near the rights and protections that employees who work in the private or federal sector have. Obviously President Bush was NOT as short-sighted as Jack Johnson.
The fight started by President Bush has not ended. Just like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employees’ civil rights under the ADA continue to be violated. We will continue the fight and uphold the legacy set by President Bush. God Speed, President Bush!