President George H.W. Bush remembered in Rochester for work on disability rights
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - In March 1990, a dozen members of Rochester's Center for Disability Rights packed up for the long road trip to Washington, D.C. They went to fight for the Americans with Disabilities Act which had stalled in the Senate.
"It goes back to the days of the civil rights in the 1960s," said Sherry Shaw, who gave an interview to 13WHAM at the time. "It's no different from them until now."
Erica Jones now works at CDR to advocate for rights for her peers.
"When they created this law, they modeled it after the Civil Rights Act," Jones said. "Just that comparison in itself makes you feel worthy. Not only from a physical standard by being able to get to places, but worthy from being a member of society."
Jones was just five years old when President George H.W. Bush signed the law. Yet in her small town, the implementation came slowly. She has clear memories of specific changes.
"I didn't know about discrimination, I didn't know about any of that stuff. I just knew there were places I couldn't get to," Jones said. "Seeing that I did have the right to go to this store or movie theater - that I had a right to be in this place."
Jonathan Dollhopf is deaf. He has never known a life without the equal opportunity and equal access provisions of the ADA.
"When I look back and reflect on who he was as president and him really committing to the ADA, I'm really grateful for him," Dollhopf said through an interpreter.
It's not just about people with disabilities. Many of us have watched someone pushing a stroller use a wheelchair ramp. President Bush not only signed the law; he was a major advocate for it.
It almost didn't happen. That March, the Rochester protesters joined in a procession of hundreds of wheelchairs rolling from the White House to the Capitol. Some exited their chairs and hoisted themselves up the stairs one by one in a painful climb to bring their battle directly to Congress.
Before signing the law President Bush said, "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come down."
New generations who benefit from it said it's time to pick up the baton. They are pushing for clarity on whether the ADA covers equal access to the Internet - particularly for the blind and visually impaired.
"We want to make sure that the ADA keeps being active. We don't want to get it thrown out or for it to get weak," Dollhopf said.
President Bush will be laid to rest Thursday in his home state of Texas.