Thank You, President George H.W. Bush

President George HW BushAfter President George Herbert Walker Bush died Friday, the news has been full of stories about his service. One big story missing in all that? George Herbert Walker Bush is the president who signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.

The ADA requires “reasonable accommodation” for individuals with disabilities in employment and at places of public accommodation such as retail stores, office buildings, sidewalks and movie theaters. I started losing my eyesight in 1984, six years before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. At first I didn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. I quit driving or riding my bike, but I could still see well enough to walk to work. Most of my day was spent counseling college students on study abroad options; I could have done that with my eyes closed.

As my eyesight got worse, though, I started making mistakes in the office. One morning I spilled grounds all over the office floor on my way to make coffee. I ran into tabletops. I had to sit close to the office computer screen to see the words. At one point my boss took me aside and told me I wouldn’t be going to the annual convention with my colleagues. “You’ll embarrass the office,” she said.

Months later, she terminated my contract.

I am totally blind now, and I use speech software to write for publications and moderate our blog. I’ve had three books published, and my Seeing Eye dog leads me to buses and cabs to get all around Chicago to teach five different weekly memoir-writing classes for people 55 and better.

We still have a long, long way to go before hiring practices are totally fair to those of us with disabilities. But since the passage of the ADA, things are moving in the right direction. Thanks to the hard work so many disability advocates put into getting this bill passed, and to the late President George H.W. Bush for signing it into law in 1990. The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed a lot of lives — for the better.


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