President George H.W. Bush and His Sledgehammer

As we mourn today the death of President George H.W. Bush, my thoughts turn to his sledgehammer.

President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990.  The ADA was a major piece of civil rights legislation not only in this country but internationally. President Bush noted this in his statement when he signed the bill into law:

This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities — the first. Its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue.

He emphasized the ADA’s significance by referencing the very founding of our country:

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.

He could have stopped with the American Revolution, but he pulled the rope on the freedom bell one more time:

Last year, we celebrated a victory of international freedom. Even the strongest person couldn’t scale the Berlin Wall to gain the elusive promise of independence that lay just beyond. And so, together we rejoiced when that barrier fell.

With the gravitas of the bill on the desk before him established, President Bush picked up his pen:

And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp. Once again, we rejoice as this barrier falls for claiming together, we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.

Since the 90’s, I have given many speeches to clients and business organizations about their compliance obligations under the ADA. In my PowerPoint presentation, the first slide was often the sledgehammer quote from President Bush’s  signing statement.

President Bush and his sledgehammer. The sledgehammer lives on. President Bush, rest in peace.