H.W. Bush: the President who Validated the ADA

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

Happy Inauguration Day!

To celebrate this special day, we wanted to bring to light a former President who was a champion for people with disabilities: President George H.W. Bush. Bush was elected in 1989 and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990. This was a law he began working on while he was Vice President.

What the ADA is and How it Began

The ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability- cognitive, intellectual, sensory, and physical. This law was monumental to the disability community and is viewed as the Civil Rights Act for differently-abled individuals.

The Disability Rights Movement fought for the passage of the ADA across multiple presidencies before it was finally put into law. The Disability Rights and Defense Fund writes,

The history of the ADA did not begin on July 26, 1990, at the signing ceremony at the White House. It did not begin in 1988 when the first ADA was introduced in Congress. The ADA story began a long time ago in cities and towns throughout the United States when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children. It began with the establishment of local groups to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. It began with the establishment of the independent living movement which challenged the notion that people with disabilities needed to be institutionalized, and which fought for and provided services for people with disabilities to live in the community.

Bush’s Empathy and Curiosity

In 1986, Vice President Bush agreed to meet with members of the National Council on Disability who wrote a report that instilled the crucial need for a law like the ADA. A civil rights law for people with disabilities was demanded because differently-abled individuals faced discrimination in all facets of life. They wanted the ability to be independent but without a law like the ADA that requires physical, social, and interpersonal accommodations, the disabled community was not able to obtain their own independence.

After Vice President Bush met with members of the Council, he endorsed their proposal. Bush was drawn to the ADA for multiple reasons, among those were the loss of his own child who had a learning disability and his use of a wheelchair. He was able to understand the purpose and importance of the Act due to his own lived experiences with his disability.

The Impact

We share this story with you as a reminder that if we are willing to extend an ear to someone’s ideas and/or the challenges they face and listen with empathy and curiosity, we can make a difference in people’s lives. It is impossible to know how many other vice presidents and presidents members of the Council would have had to surpass to get a law like the ADA passed if President Bush had not taken the time to listen to and understand the objectives of the Disability Rights Movement. People with disabilities still face many challenges and barriers today; however, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act was a step forward.


President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden has written a list of promises that will promote the full participation and equality of the disabled community. Although it is difficult to know how many of these promises will be successfully put into action, we encourage you to read about his efforts.

We are very hopeful that this new administration will continue the work that needs to be done and support those that are in the trenches. The Wheels for Jacquie Foundation is focused on one aspect of the struggles many differently-abled individuals face, the basic need of transportation, and we hope that you will join us in our work. To learn more, please visit www.wheelsforjacquiefoundation.org.



Mayerson, Arlene. “The History of ADA.” Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund,


Withers, Rachel. “George H.W. Bush Was a Champion for People with Disabilities.” Vox, Vox, 2

Dec. 2018, www.vox.com/2018/12/2/18122640/george-h-w-bush-americans-with-disabilities.

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