NCBLN Business Blog

July 24, 2023

George H.W. Bush: The President Who Enacted the ADA

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC As we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the ADA, it is important that we pay homage to the various political figures and disability rights advocates who made its implementation possible. One of the key figures in the debate over the ADA was George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States, who worked together with Congressional leaders to have the bill passed and who signed it into law on July 26, 1990. The signing of the ADA remains one of the landmark achievements of the elder Bush, whose policies led to the enactment of one of the most far-reaching disability rights bills in U.S. history. George Herbert Walker Bush was born on June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, to a family with a longstanding tradition of public service. This upbringing instilled in Bush a sense of responsibility to make his contribution to the U.S., both in war and peace. On his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the armed forces during World War II, rising to become the youngest pilot in the Navy upon receiving his wings. After flying 58 combat missions as a torpedo bomber pilot in the Pacific Theatre, Bush was shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire and was rescued from the water by a U.S. submarine. This episode led to his decoration with the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action. Following his military service, Bush married Barbara Pierce in January 1945 and channeled his energy into completing his education at Yale University, where he excelled both in his athletic and academic pursuits, becoming captain of the baseball team and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Together with Barbara, he raised a family of six children – George, Robin, John (known as Jeb), Neil, Marvin, and Dorothy. Of […]
July 21, 2023

Senator Bob Dole: Lifelong Champion of Disability Rights

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC Among the Congressional leaders who supported the Americans with Disabilities Act, Senator Bob Dole led one of the most distinguished careers as a supporter of disability rights legislation, both before and after the ADA’s passage. His advocacy for disability rights was significantly influenced by his own experience of having suffered a severe physical disability because of his wartime service, and consequently Senator Dole had a unique empathy for the daily challenges that people in the disability community faced. Throughout his career, he championed disability rights in both the national and international spheres, and he earned widespread renown in 1996 as the first presidential nominee with a visible disability since Franklin Roosevelt, challenging negative assumptions about disability and aging. As we commemorate the anniversary of the ADA’s passage this year, it is important that we pay homage to Senator Dole’s life and career as a devoted supporter of disability rights whose tireless efforts helped ensure the enactment of the ADA and numerous other disability rights laws. Bob Dole was born in Russell, Kansas on July 22, 1923. As a student at the University of Kansas, he was highly athletic, playing for the basketball and football teams and running track. During World War II, Dole joined the US. Army and saw action in the Italian campaign. It was here that he suffered a severe wound from enemy sniper fire, which dislocated his shoulder and crippled his backside. During his hospitalization, Dole drafted a questionnaire that called attention to the “inadequate” care that he and other veterans received in military hospitals, demanding the “best medical attention possible.” To achieve this goal, he sought help with gathering evidence of poor hospital conditions and going public with these facts. Following numerous surgeries and years of rehabilitation, Dole was able […]
July 18, 2023

Edward Kennedy: Sponsor and Champion of the ADA

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC As we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we should pay homage to Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the chief sponsor of the bill and one of its most outspoken supporters. A scion of the elite Kennedy family, Senator Kennedy devoted his career to championing health care reform and disability rights legislation on behalf of those who were marginalized in society. His efforts were motivated in part by Senator Kennedy’s deeply personal connection to disability in his family, and he brought himself to the task of securing the ADA’s passage with ardent commitment and perseverance. Senator Kennedy’s advocacy of the ADA played an instrumental role in the enactment of the ADA, which would have a transformative impact on the lives of millions of Americans with disabilities. Edward M. Kennedy was born on February 22, 1932, in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald. The youngest of nine children, Edward grew up in an affluent and privileged family, with his father serving as the U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James in Great Britain. However, his formative years were marked by a family tragedy involving his sister Rosemary, who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability as an infant and was institutionalized following a disastrous lobotomy as an adult. The fact that his sister had a severe intellectual disability had a profound influence on Edward and later served as the basis for his passionate advocacy for the ADA. As a Senator, Kennedy’s support for national health insurance was significantly influenced by a personal tragedy: His son Ted contracted bone cancer at the age of twelve, leading to the amputation of his leg above the knee, followed by chemotherapy and injection of anticancer agents, which Senator Kennedy had to personally administer. […]
July 13, 2023

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC Among the leading political figures involved in the passage of the ADA, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh played a prominent role, representing the Bush administration in its negotiations with Congressional leaders. Like most of the Senate co-sponsors of the bill, Attorney General Thornburgh had firsthand experience with disability in his family, which therefore gave him a personal understanding of and empathy for the struggles of people with disabilities. Consequently, he actively promoted equal rights for the disability community throughout his career, and as Attorney General he helped to work out regulatory measures for the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination and its provision for reasonable accommodations in schools, workplaces, and transportation. Through Thornburgh’s efforts, the ADA’s implementation facilitated profound changes in the lives of people with disabilities, and he has remained a dedicated ally of the disability community in the continuing dialogue over disability-related issues. Dick Thornburgh was born on July 16, 1932, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began his legal career in 1958 at the firm of Kilpatrick, Pomeroy, Lockhart, and Johnson, where he served before his election as Governor of Pennsylvania in 1978, becoming the first Republican to serve two successive terms in the gubernatorial office. As a young lawyer, Thornburgh learned of a tragic car accident in which his first wife was killed and two of his sons were injured, one of whom, Peter, suffered traumatic brain damage at the age of four months. At the time of this accident, “no effective advocacy networks for persons with disabilities even existed, and the ADA was still 30 years away.” Thornburgh would later reflect that, through the years of hard work on the part of his second wife Ginny, Peter was able to live independently in an assisted living apartment and work full-time as a volunteer at […]
July 7, 2023

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins: An Iconic Child Activist

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC Among the disability rights activists who took part in the Capitol Crawl on March 12, 1990, the youngest protester to climb the Capitol steps was eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, a girl with cerebral palsy whose photograph became an enduring and iconic symbol of the disability rights movement’s effort to lobby Congress for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act through direct action. While many activists at the time were concerned that the image of a child with a physical disability taking part in the protest would send a message of pity, Keelan-Chaffins undertook this historic climb as an act of empowerment, both for herself and for other children with disabilities. The demonstration thus played a significant role in swaying Congress to pass the ADA, which brought about substantial transformation for disability rights across the United States. Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins was born in Michigan in 1981. Born a month prematurely and weighing only three pounds and ten ounces, at the age of two she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which left lesions within the motor cortex of her brain. Her mother Cynthia and grandfather Chuck were told by doctors that Jennifer would never be able to move, talk, or learn, and they recommended that she be placed in a home or be put up for adoption. However, Jennifer’s family opted to raise her at home, and their experience gave them the motivation to become actively involved in the disability rights movement. Cynthia recalled, “When she was born, she had her fist clenched in the air. We just let her do the rest… She was a very strong advocate.” During her formative years, Jennifer experienced significant discrimination due to her disability: She was “forced to take separate classes (irregardless of her aptitude and ability), impeded by the sheer […]
July 3, 2023

Congressman Steny Hoyer

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC Among the Congressional leaders who supported passage of the ADA, Steny Hoyer was one of its most strident advocates in the House of Representatives, sponsoring the bill and holding meetings with lobbyists and staff members who provided valuable information about disability issues. In addition, Congressman Hoyer fought for passage of the ADA Amendments Act in 2008 to ensure that people with disabilities would benefit from the ADA’s original intent of inclusion. Like most of the Congressional leaders involved in sponsoring the ADA, Hoyer had firsthand experience with disability in his family, as his wife was epileptic, and therefore had a personal stake in the outcome of the ADA and the meaning associated with it. Widely credited for his efforts in securing the House passage of the ADA, Congressman Hoyer continues to support a wide variety of social welfare policies today, but his commitment to disability rights has remained a distinguishing aspect of his legacy. Steny Hoyer was born in New York City in 1939. After graduating from Suitland High School in Maryland, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland at College Park and his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1963 and 1966, respectively. He subsequently worked as an attorney before being elected to represent Maryland’s 5th Congressional District in 1981. During the debate over the ADA, Congressman Hoyer played a leading role in sponsoring the House version of the bill. Because his wife was epileptic, he came to the debate with a deeply intimate personal experience in disability. Meeting with lobbyists and staffers who provided consultation on the bill, he “learned much about other disabilities and the idea that disability was a civil rights issue.” Over the course of the debate, Congressman Hoyer was therefore a “tireless […]
June 27, 2023

Tom Harkin: Senate Champion of the ADA

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC As we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the ADA, it is important that we pay homage to the Congressional leaders who worked diligently to have the bill implemented. One of the leading Senators who sponsored the bill was Tom Harkin of Iowa, whose lifelong support for disability rights was significantly shaped by his own formative experiences of growing up with a disabled family member. He cited this experience in his landmark speech on July 13, 1990, the date of the ADA’s passage, which was notable for being the first speech in American Sign Language to be delivered on the Senate floor. Senator Harkin’s dedication to disability rights earned him a place in history as a renowned champion of the ADA and an advocate for social and economic equality for all Americans, irrespective of their ability or disability. Tom Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa, on November 19, 1939, to an Irish American coal miner and a Slovenian immigrant mother. Growing up in a close-knit working-class family, Tom and his five siblings were instilled with the values of hard work and responsibility, which Tom adhered to by working a series of jobs – on farms and construction sites, as a paper boy and at a Des Moines bottling plant. In addition, Tom grew up with a deaf older brother, Frank, with whom he spent time learning sign language in order to communicate. This experience, together with the disability of his nephew Kelly McQuaid later on, gave Tom a strong empathy for people with disabilities which would later contribute to his lifelong support for disability rights. Following his graduation from Dowling High School in Des Moines, Tom attended Iowa State University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, earning a degree in Government and Economics. […]
June 23, 2023

Congressman Steve Bartlett

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC As we commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we should recognize the contributions of the Congressional leaders who supported the bill on a bipartisan basis. These leaders had a variety of reasons that reflected their respective party lines. While Democratic leaders supported the extension of civil rights to people with disabilities as part of their party’s support for federal legislation on behalf of minority rights, Republican leaders favored the creation of employment opportunities to promote greater economic independence for members of the disability and to facilitate growth in the business sector. Among these Republican leaders was Steve Bartlett of Texas, who worked together with Democratic congressman Steny Hoyer to pass the ADA in the House of Representatives. Airing his views on a viewer call-in discussion of the ADA in May 1990, Bartlett delivered a powerful conservative rationale for passing the bill along conservative lines, addressing a variety of concerns raised by constituents. These motivations played a significant role in Republican support for the ADA, ensuring its passage in both houses of Congress. Steve Bartlett was born on September 19, 1947, in Los Angeles, California, and was raised by a farming family in Lockhart, Texas. As the eldest son on the farm, he was responsible for managing family operations at home while his father was at work, sending his siblings to do chores that he assigned them. This experience provided him with valuable discipline, a strong work ethic, and a belief in the importance of saving one’s earnings rather than spending extravagantly. He later reflected, “There wasn’t any magic to it… If you want to go to college, you have to save money. I had learned from my parents that, if you want to save, you should focus on decreasing spending […]
June 16, 2023

Judy Huemann: The Mother of the Disability Rights Movement

by Nils Skudra, Communications Specialist, DI-NC As the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, we must pay recognition to the numerous disability rights advocates who lobbied for the bill and the Congressional leaders who supported it. One of the most influential figures in the campaign for the ADA was Judy Heumann, who was widely considered the “mother of the disability rights movement.” Internationally renowned for her disability rights activism, she played an instrumental role in the development and implementation of numerous pieces of disability rights legislation, including the ADA. This is especially relevant in the aftermath of Ms. Heumann’s recent passing in March of this year, and therefore it is essential that we preserve and honor her legacy by continuing her life’s work.