If you wondered why flags were still flying at half-staff all over the country during your holiday travels last month, it's because President Trump proclaimed that all U.S. Flags should be lowered until December 30 to honor the passing of President George H.W. Bush on November 30, 2018.
The flags are now back to their usual position but, as noted in many articles published after his passing, "41" will be long remembered fondly by many because of the impact his signing the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) had on individual lives.
I am one such individual. If living in a wheelchair as a child wasn’t difficult enough, it got even harder when I started school in 1985. I had to wake up very early to meet the bus for the two-hour commute across town. I was on a bus four hours every school day. Unlike the other kids in my neighborhood, I couldn’t attend the school down the road because it wasn't equipped for my wheelchair. That might sound insignificant to some, but it was exhausting trying to make it through a full day. The situation was also hard on my socialization as my school friends and I had to travel longer distances to attend birthday parties and sleepovers.
The legacy of President George H.W. Bush involves much more than the accomplishments he achieved politically. As I watched his funeral, I reflected on the difference he made in my life by signing the ADA into law in 1990. Then and now, his party affiliation wasn’t relevant. What is important is that in signing such a landmark piece of legislation, he not only changed the course of my life, but the lives of all people with disabilities in this country. It’s undeniable that advocates and activists like Ed Roberts and Justin Dart, Jr. had a massive impact on the trajectory of life for people with disabilities today. At the same time, the feat of putting pen to paper on such a life-changing piece of systems change legislation should be acknowledged accordingly. Passage of the ADA is a groundbreaking example of how quality of life for a marginalized group could be improved by assuring, via law, equal access to housing, employment, education, and other services.
Changes brought about by the ADA didn't arrive soon enough to affect my school years but I can certainly see the positive outcomes today at my son's school. Many, if not most, of the children who use wheelchairs and/or who have intellectual disabilities can attend neighborhood schools with accessible classrooms and restrooms and individual accommodations, when necessary. When I attend functions at my son’s school, the accessibility of the facilities for me is a welcome change from my school years. It’s much easier for me to get around independently and there aren’t any visible obstacles to prevent me from participating in his school events or meeting with his teachers. It’s a huge relief that I don’t have to worry about facing barriers that might exclude or limit my full participation in my role as a parent.
There are other areas of life the ADA has improved for me. As an adult, the job search process hasn't always been the easiest thing in the world for me; but because of ADA protections it’s unlawful to turn down otherwise qualified applicants because of a disability. Today, I’m also able to travel easier than I would be otherwise and experience different parts of the world. Travel improves a person’s quality of life and opens them up to learning and experiencing things that may not have otherwise been possible. This isn’t to say there aren’t still issues concerning travel and employment for people with disabilities. We still have much work to do -- but the ADA's existence gives us a more powerful voice to continue advocating for change in these areas.
It’s my belief that George H.W. Bush had a hand in changing the landscape for citizens of the United States. I’m proud to have endured the hardships of life before the ADA because it’s given me an appreciation for what I’ve gained. It’s my hope to use these experiences and milestones in history to help the next generation advocate for access to other needed services and supports. I will always be grateful to President George H.W. Bush for this official act that personally changed and improved my life and those of others.