Gov. Tom Ridge Recalls President Bush’s Work for Americans with Disabilities
DECEMBER 4, 2018, WASHINGTON | Sully, a now familiar service dog for former President George H.W. Bush, lay a few feet from the late president’s casket in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
The yellow Labrador soon will begin his next mission at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. But first, Sully and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge on Tuesday escorted a group of disabled Americans through the Capitol to honor and highlight Bush’s work on the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“That legislation was, in his heart, one of the most important things he did as president,” Ridge said in an interview as he spoke to the group of three dozen people in Statuary Hall after paying their respects.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge speaks with Adam Keys, left, a Whitehall Township native and Army veteran who now lives in Annapolis. (Laura Olson/The Morning Call)
Signed on July 26, 1990, the ADA was landmark civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities. The practical effects have included ensuring there are physical accommodations in public places, like ramps or accessible bathrooms, as well as access to interpreters or documents in braille, and protections in seeking employment.
Bush said when he enacted the law it would help disabled Americans have “independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”
Ridge, who serves as board chairman for the National Organization on Disability, said it was important to Bush’s family to celebrate that part of his legacy during the events honoring the late president’s life.
“Everybody has a tendency to focus on his passion, compassion, his humanity, his decency, his integrity, and they forget some of the achievements of his presidency,” Ridge said.
So on Tuesday, Ridge took the group — veterans and nonveterans, some in wheelchairs — into the Rotunda, with Sully as their chaperone. Among the group was Adam Keys, a Whitehall Township native and Army veteran.
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Keys, who now lives in Annapolis, Md., was injured in Afghanistan when a roadside blast rocked the armored vehicle he was traveling in. He lost both legs and his left hand in the aftermath.
He described Tuesday’s visit as “pretty profound,” saying he appreciated the opportunity to “give my salute and pay my respects” to the late president and commander in chief.
“How many times over can one person serve?” Keys said, noting Bush’s role in the military and in government.
Ridge, who also was at the Capitol Monday for a ceremony honoring Bush, told the group that Bush would have been “gratified and humbled” that they were there.
There’s more to do to build upon Bush’s efforts to help the disabled community, Ridge added. Americans still need to do a better job to recognize that disability is a human condition, and find more ways to provide access to employment, he said.
Ridge’s own ties to Bush date back to his work as a young lawyer during the 1980 presidential campaign.
Their relationship grew and evolved into a personal friendship. George W. Bush, the late president’s son, named Ridge the nation’s first director of Homeland Security.
Ridge Tuesday praised Bush as someone who treated world leaders and low-level staffers with the same level of respect and civility.
“He’s a man for whom I have a great deal of admiration and affection,” Ridge said.