In 1995, when I was 8 years old, a car accident left me with a spinal cord injury, which meant I would be wheelchair bound for life. In an instant, my small world shifted from gymnastics and bike riding to a seemingly endless cycle of physical therapy, adaptations, wheels, and ramps.
Yet, my transition to becoming one of the more than 40 million Americans with disabilities was infinitely easier than it would have been just years earlier. Five years prior to my injury, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
A comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation, the ADA ensures that people with disabilities have a fair chance at employment, access to public accommodations, and expanded accessible transportation. But more than the letter of the law, the spirit of the law brings those of us with disabilities out of the shadows, not only acknowledging that we exist, but that we have inherent value and have much to contribute to American society.
Upon signing the ADA President Bush remarked:
And in our America, the most generous, optimistic nation on the face of the earth, we must not and will not rest until every man and woman with a dream has the means to achieve it.
And today, America welcomes into the mainstream of life all of our fellow citizens with disabilities. We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences, for your past courage and your future dreams.
I am forever grateful to President George H. W. Bush for his part in formally recognizing the God-given dignity of all people with disabilities. Thanks to this landmark legislation, I never knew a world in which my paralysis forced me to sit on the sidelines. Although the way has not always been barrier-free, there exists a legal mechanism that ensures a path to access for me.
When our neighbors with disabilities are not only welcomed but expected to be a part of our schools, workplaces, churches, and communities, we are able to more fully glimpse the abundance of God’s design for humanity.
When I returned to my elementary school following my injury and was unable to access parts of the building, my parents were able to ask the school system to make accommodations so that I could join my classmates in regular activities. Thanks to public accommodations, I have been able to travel, live, and serve all over the world on my own. And now that I am a mom of two young boys, it is no minor thing that I can take both of my boys to the store, park, and shop without having to worry about how I will maneuver tight parking spots or steps on the way in. I just get to be their mom.
In 2015, President Bush said that signing the Americans with Disabilities Act was “something I’m very proud of, perhaps proudest of when I was president.” But he acknowledged that more work still needs to be done. He recognized that legislation like the ADA does not merely benefit those with disabilities, seen or unseen, but benefits all of us.
Individuals with disabilities are not objects of charity, but human beings imprinted with the imago dei. God has not counted out those of us with limitations. In fact, the Scripture tells us that it is in our weakness that God’s power is made perfect. When our neighbors with disabilities are not only welcomed but expected to be a part of our schools, workplaces, churches, and communities, we are able to more fully glimpse the abundance of God’s design for humanity.
Thank you, Mr. President, for being our champion. We will honor your legacy by continuing to push down barriers and utilizing our unique God-given talents to serve our fellow Americans.