The Americans with Disabilities Act and Bob Dole

Posted by Rochelle Harris on Jan 3rd 2022

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Bob Dole


The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into federal law back in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. This was a monumental civil rights bill that received bipartisan support, thanks to several advocates like Senator Bob Dole. The Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and addresses core areas of our community experience to promote equal opportunities and inclusion for all people.

Bob Dole

Senator Dole played a big part in rallying other Republican Senators as well as Democrats to vote in favor of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Senator Bob Dole's life was one of public service, as he served in the House of Representatives of the U.S. Senate representing Kansas for 27 years, was the Republican Leader of the Senate for 11 years, which incidentally included three non-consecutive terms as the Senate Majority Leader. In addition, in 1996 he was the Republican Presidential Nominee but ultimately did not prevent the re-election of President Bill Clinton.

Disabled Veteran

Bob Dole was unique in that he was a disabled World War II veteran, where he lost the use of his right arm, and ultimately the left as well. This made him the perfect advocate for people with disabilities and gave him a singular perspective on the importance of passing the bill. Senator Dole was a fantastic leader with a disability and a champion for other disabled people everywhere.

Powerful House Leader

Bob Dole was a powerful House Leader, gaining bipartisan support. He also brought people like former Senator Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Tony Coelho, John McCain, and many others together on multiple issues. And whenever there was a committee meeting on disability issues, Bob Dole would take the Senate floor to fight for the rights of the disabled.

2012 - U.N. Treaty

In 2012, President Obama and his Administration, along with physical support from Bob Dole, Senator McCain and others, who incidentally had always had the support of most GOP officials from President Reagan and Bush Administrations, attended the United Nations Convention. Part of the visit was to

enter into a United Nations Treaty, to get other nations who also do not support discrimination of people with disabilities, to upgrade their treatment and standards for anybody with a disability.

Unified Standards of Accessibility

The idea was to have a more unified approach to accessibility, so that the disabled could potentially travel anywhere in the free world and be able to count on certain specific accessible design standards, mostly concerning navigation. Unfortunately, Dole witnessed humiliation and abandonment instead, leaving no doubt of the problems Republicans now had with the policy he had worked so hard to implement. All but 8 House Republicans voted against the treaty, citing seemingly "paranoid" reasons for their withdrawal.

Loyal to His Party

Despite the obvious snub, Dole remained loyal to the Republican party and his core beliefs, the majority of which aligned with theirs. Bob Dole ran unsuccessfully for President in 1996 against Bill Clinton and was the Vice Presidential nominee in 1976 with Ford. He endorsed and supported Donald Trump in 2016, unlike any other former nominees. 

The Act Itself

Dole was intricately involved with the actual writing of the Bill that became the Disability Act and wrote several key provisions within the Bill. Objectively looking at the Bill from both angles, he tried to also shield against unnecessary litigation because of the Act. In addition, he suggested implementing incentives for small businesses such as tax credits for hiring any employee with a disability, which indeed was passed when the Bill was signed into law.

Help Lower Unemployment for Disabled

Dole was an advocate for helping to lower the unemployment rate for individuals who live with a disability. He co-wrote the Bill to include that covered businesses be responsible for providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, a huge win for the community. This provision really makes all the difference, because it "levels the playing field", so that someone who is perfectly qualified for a position can demonstrate their abilities - even with a disability.

Personal Endeavors

Dole founded the Bob Dole Institute of Politics, a high-quality University that helps young people learn about politics, and possibly even more importantly, about bipartisan politics, and how they can be achieved. Guest politicians come and give speeches for students, and students get inspired. In addition, his wife founded the Elizabeth Dole Foundation which helps families and loved ones of people with disabilities, especially those who are veterans. To find out more, much of the information contained within was taken from the Elizabeth Dole Archive and Special Collections. Bob Dole died at age 98 on December 5th, 2021. He was a great leader and will be remembered for his contributions to the ADA, and his service to the United States of America.

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