He’s also responsible for a piece of historic legislation that may not have received as much attention this last week, perhaps because it made an indelible impact on the lives of people too often relegated to the sidelines.
On July 26, 1990, President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for the first time ensuring the civil rights of people living with disabilities. Until this law was signed, nothing prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation.
Even in 1990, it was long past “about time” for the ADA. Now almost three decades later, while many take for granted the concept that equality should extend to people of all abilities, we know that we’re not fully there yet. But we’re getting closer.
A first step has been the recognition that inclusion isn’t passive and it isn’t simple. If it came easily, the ADA would have passed 50 years before it did. Fully welcoming people with disabilities, giving them the tools to reach their potential, shifting from doing what’s always been done to doing what’s right, has required our community to invest in change. And I’m glad to say that we have.
Today, UJA supports hundreds of educational, recreational, and community engagement programs at more than 25 partner agencies, as well as local synagogues, reaching people from early childhood through employment and life cycle events, into adulthood. Most recently, we joined with the mayor’s office on the new NYC: At Work Initiative to help people with disabilities gain meaningful employment, and to provide resources to businesses looking to hire them.
In UJA’s own offices, we’ve had 11 interns from the Marlene Meyerson JCC’s Just One Job program, giving people in their 20s and 30s with disabilities a chance to learn valuable skills. Looking forward, we’re commissioning research to better understand needs and identify gaps in service for people with disabilities in their 30s – 50s.
UJA’s Task Force on Disabilities also helped drive the creation of the ReelAbilities film festival, using art to share the lives and aspirations of people with disabilities.
We’ve come far, and we’re working to do even better, knowing that our community is stronger when everyone is seen and welcomed.
In his later years, President Bush had a form of Parkinson’s disease that limited his mobility, and he became a wheelchair user. The fighter pilot, the college baseball player, the president who signed the ADA, likely never imagined himself becoming a person with a physical disability.
But when he did, because he championed that law, his civil rights were protected. And there were ramps in public places to make sure that, until the end, he was able to keep rolling along.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah