With the passing of Barbara Bush earlier this week, the news has been awash with memorials of her life and the presidency of her husband, George H.W. Bush— or, as I not-so-secretly call him, “Old Man Bush.” I realize that calling the 41st president by that moniker sounds ageist and mean, but given we had another president with LIKE EXACTLY THE SAME NAME, how else am I to differentiate the two?? I suppose, in some ways, though, it’s better to be “Old Man Bush” than it is “Little Bush” — which is what I called his son.
Anyway, in all honestly, my recollection of the years when George & Barbara Bush lived in the White House are decidedly hazy. I was only around 8 at the time, so anything that wasn’t in the shape of a Lego really didn’t interest me. But, nonetheless, I do have vague flashbacks of Barbara with her shock of white hair and her bright suits the color of a Troll doll’s hair. Seriously, those suits were bright.
I bet she even glowed in the dark.
You know… it’s easy to imagine George and Barbara playing hide-and-seek in the White House. ‘Cause, if anyone were to do it, it would probably be those two lovebirds.
“Bar, ready or not, here I come!” A few minutes of scrambling later, and then you’d hear George exclaim, “Come here, you saucy minx, I can see you glowing all the way from the Lincoln Bedroom!”
Anyway, I do remember Barbara’s literacy programs in my elementary school, but as I was a certifiable bookworm already, Barbara was truly preachin’ to the choir with me. I don’t think it was possible for me to read any more books— after all, I had already made my parents broke by forcing them to buy me the entire series of The Babysitters Club. (I wish I was kidding.)
But, despite my early ambivalence to politics, I do remember one landmark moment during the presidency of Old Man Bush (sorry, I still can’t seem to help myself). It was that moment in 1990 when George signed The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that legislation had been a long time in coming. Many disabled activists had endured many trials and hardships to make that moment possible. Even though I was young, I could still feel the importance of that revolutionary document. On the news that day, I saw folks in wheelchairs at the White House sitting next to the president. I had never seen that before. They were people like me. (Although, in all honesty, they were mostly male and super white. At the time, of course, diversity was an unnecessary concept, not an actual reality. You know, like women CEOs and food allergies.)
The ADA would nonetheless go on to shape the civil rights movement for disabled people all over the world. It was a giant leap forward for accessibility, inclusion and equal-access. But, as amazing as the legislation was, it’s still an imperfect document. It has loopholes, exclusions, and falls short in various areas that could further improve the lives of people like me. So, I can say without hesitation that we still have a long way to go. There are still many barriers that must fall.
Despite this, there has been a movement recently to try to erode away some of the protections of the ADA. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 620, a bill misleadingly named “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” By removing the reasons for businesses to proactively comply with the ADA, H.R. 620 attempts to chip away at the rights of a disabled person to fight for the removal of barriers to access. It makes it more difficult, and nearly impossible in some cases, for an aggrieved disabled person to seek accommodation. Nonetheless, the shitty bill has moved on to the Senate, where it sits right now.
With the passing of Barbara Bush, it’s made me reflect on that moment when her husband first signed the ADA. Often more vocally progressive than her husband, I’m sure that moment in 1990 brought Barbara much pride.
Now, all these years later, we shouldn’t be looking to scale back the ADA, we should be working to expand it. Time marches forward, after all.
Unless you can’t walk. Because then you might not even be able to get in the building.
4 thoughts on “1990: Revisited”
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As an older person (62) with a disability, I can also tell you that things in this country are much better with the ADA than if it had never been passed. I remember all too well the discrimination that we older disabled were confronted with almost on a daily basis.
However, I can also tell you that the original negotiators who negotiated passage of the ADA made some very costly concessions they never should’ve made. For example, making the concessions that disabled people could not sue for punitive damages was a major concession that the original founders should have never settled for. Without being able to sue for damages, it almost makes it impossible to find an attorney who is willing to take an ADA case, since they cannot be assured that they will be paid for their services.
Also, the cynic in me realizes that the ADA may not have been signed in the first place by George H. W. Bush for genuine and heartfelt reason that he actually gave a damn about disability discrimination, but more for political expediency. It is a well-known fact that George H. W. Bush was very low in the popularity polls, especially after the senseless Gulf War with Iraq. The economy under him was also in the tank.
All in all, this really does make a difference because the Americans With Disabilities Act was a great piece of legislation and needs to be preserved at all costs. As someone who lived before the ADA, I’m old enough to remember how hard life was before it.
I sense Old Man Bush signed the ADA partly out of political expediency… but I may be a softy for thinking he mainly did it because it was the right thing to do. He signed the ADA before the Gulf War, so his presidency was in its earlier days.
And, you are right, it’s got its flaws, but it’s been a huge move in the right direction. We’ve got to keep the momentum going, though.
Such a great artcle, Elizabette! Keep them coming!