My family and I are vacationing in the Smoky Mountains in Gatlinburg TN. My girls were six and seven in age at the time. We’re hitting all the mom and pop stores looking for trinkets. One of the stores we were shopping in, we were asked to leave because strollers were not allowed. The owner felt that having strollers in his store was not good for business and could damage their merchandise. I informed him it was not a stroller but a wheelchair. My seven-year-old was in a wheelchair. I was taken aback by the request and remember he wasn’t too kind in asking us to leave. It appeared he could care less if it was a wheelchair or stroller. Being in the south, and an African American family, I had to process this demand to exit the store. We didn’t leave immediately, nor did we buy anything from the store. Fast forward a couple of years later, I took my daughters to the Race for a Cure event in Peoria; we were asked to leave the race after it started because strollers were not allowed. Again, not in a stroller but a wheelchair. I fully understand the safety of runners and walkers and making sure no one trips over strollers while running, especially when you have hundreds of participants. There were about 20 mothers pushing strollers ahead of us. I didn’t see not one of them being asked to leave.
It was the recent death of former President George H.W. Bush, that took me down memory lane. His death made me think about how the law he passed, gave so many people with a disability (and their families) their independence back. On July 26, 1990, President Bush signed the American Disabilities Act-ADA into law. The ADA is a federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled persons in terms of employment opportunities, access to transportation, and public accommodations. Without President Bush, the American with Disabilities Act would not have passed. He brought bipartisan legislation together. People who really understood that disabilities are not limited to specific political party lines. Senator Bob Doyle a Republican from Kansas and Senator Ted Kennedy, a Democrat from Massachusetts were some of the people who worked with Bush to champion rights for people who were physically and mentally challenged. Doyle was seriously injured in WW2 and went on to become an US Senator. The Kennedy family is known for starting the Special Olympics.
Born premature, my daughter was not supposed to come home from the hospital. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was six months, the doctors told us to put her in a home and go about our lives because she would be a vegetable. In the 38 years she’s been on this earth she has never walked. Her dad and I made a commitment we would take her home and give her a normal life. If that meant putting a lot more time in planning, we were going to take vacations and travel. Our daughter was going to school, get an education, and be integrated with other children with or without a disability.
Watching the memorial service of George H. Bush, I was bought to tears when 96-year-old Bob Doyle stood from his wheelchair and gave a salute to the former president who was lying in state. That salute signaled respect and echoed words of thank you. While many of us will remember the 41st president for his infamous speech “read my lips, no new taxes.” An epic statement that lost him the presidency to Bill Clinton. I will always be grateful for the independence he gave my family by signing the ADA into law. For me, the ADA law is equally as important as the civil rights law. It has helped to change the way we look at disability from the medical diagnosis to having uninhibited accessibility.