Two giants in fighting for the dignity of people with disabilities have died. The better known is President George H.W. Bush, whose long list of accomplishments includes championing the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he signed into law on July 26, 1990. Here’s an excerpt from his remarks that day:
Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another “independence day,” one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom. As I look around at all these joyous faces, I remember clearly how many years of dedicated commitment have gone into making this historic new civil rights act a reality. It’s been the work of a true coalition, a strong and inspiring coalition of people who have shared both a dream and a passionate determination to make that dream come true. It’s been a coalition in the finest spirit — a joining of Democrats and Republicans, of the legislative and the executive branches, of Federal and State agencies, of public officials and private citizens, of people with disabilities and without.
The other champion of disability rights is retired federal judge Joseph Tauro, who, as Bryan Marquard put it in The Boston Globe, “issued rulings that forced the state to spend millions more to care for the developmentally disabled and to create lifetime individual treatment plans for patients.”
As a district court judge, Tauro presided over lawsuits aimed at calling attention to the horrendous and shameful treatment of the developmentally disabled at our state hospitals. He was involved in those cases for more than two decades. I was especially struck by this from the Globe obit:
In 1973, Judge Tauro first toured the Belchertown facility with Benjamin Ricci, a college professor whose son was at the school. Before letting the judge leave, Ricci brought him to a remote part of the grounds “where there was a graveyard that had no gravestones, just plugs on the ground with numbers on it,” Judge Tauro recalled in a 2006 Globe interview.
“And he said, ‘I know you can only do so much, but do you think you can make them give all these people gravestones?’ I came very close to crying when he made that request. I just nodded at him, and of course I had that burned in the back of my head,” Judge Tauro added. “And we, fortunately, did a lot more than that.”
RIP to both President Bush and Judge Tauro, who dedicated themselves to a life of public service.