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To Minnesotans with disabilities, George H.W. Bush was a hero

Say what you want about the former president, but he brought compassion to the plight of people with disabilities.

Say what you want about the former president, but he brought compassion to the plight of people with disabilities. Eric Gay, Associated Press

When he moved into the Oval Office in 1989, George Herbert Walker Bush wanted to drive the nation in a different direction. For people who have disabilities, his agenda would deliver an extraordinary moment.

The next year, Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on the South Lawn of the White House. The ADA was a sweeping measure that would help millions of people with various disabilities live lives free of discrimination. 

Unlike some Republicans today, Bush realized the importance of bringing people together and helping Americans seek what they deserve. When Ronald Reagan was the leader of the country, the ADA had been stuck in a Senate committee. With his smooth conversational skills in tow, Bush had several meetings with legislators hashing out the details. Suddenly, the bill gained steam.

The ADA has five main titles: employment, public entities, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous.

Basically, each title provides in-depth descriptions on what an American with an impairment has the right to. For example, Title 1 states that a business can’t deny an applicant a job only because they are disabled. Title 3 says all new construction projects must follow the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. The Act is long and detailed.

When George W. became president, the ADA went through a revision in 2008. The changes expanded the definition of “disability.” A Senate Committee deemed the change “makes it absolutely clear that the ADA is intended to provide broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of disability.”

There is a prime illustration of Bush’s premier disability victory right here in Minnesota. In 1982, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome opened. The building was frightening in regards to accessibility; few handicap entrances, two small public elevators, under 300 accessible seats.

The Twins learned from the ADA when designing Target Field in the mid-2000s. Today, Target Field has six wheelchair-friendly gates, over 750 handicapped seats, and a whopping 13 elevators that patrons can use. That is just one instance of the ways the ADA changed accessibility.

To many people in the disability community, Bush will be remembered for making the country accessible and establishing guidelines for the betterment of disabled citizens. He deserves to be honored during the festivities celebrating the 29th anniversary of the ADA, which will be held seven months from now.

Thank you, Bush, for seeing the ADA over the finish line, so everybody can have opportunities to succeed.

Michael L. Sack is the co-writer of Two Men On, a blog covering accessibility and sports.