NEW ORLEANS — Former Republican Senator Bob Dole died over the weekend at the age of 98. Now, he is being remembered for many accomplishments in his life but his most notable could be how he worked to push through legislation to help public school children and those with disabilities.
Dole’s right arm was paralyzed in combat just before the end of World War II. Decades later, the experience would be instrumental in inspiring Dole to help pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“After his combat injury in World War II, people treated him as less than a person and that opened his eyes to the disabled experience,” said Mark Raymond, the executive director of the Split-Second Foundation, an organization whose mission is to break barriers for people with disabilities.
Raymond became a quadriplegic after a diving accident in 2016. He says people with disabilities see the fruits of Dole’s efforts every day.
“When we walk down the street and see curb cuts and the rough yellow patches so people with vision impairments have a guide for where they are going,” said Raymond. “Also, at stop lights when you hear a cue that the light is changing or that it’s time to walk. Even in hotels, they have requirements for the number of rooms that need to be accessible.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act also prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, in transportation and in public accommodations, like restaurants and movie theaters.
“Prior to this, the world was a nightmare for people with disabilities and most were isolated and stayed home,” said Raymond.
Dole was also a champion for another cause. Along with George McGovern, he helped expand food stamps and establish what we now know as free and reduced-price lunch.
“Everyday tens of millions of kids across this country take part in the free and reduced-price lunch program that he and Senator McGovern started,” said Olin Parker, a school board member for NOLA Public Schools.
Political analysts say Dole’s legacy will be his ability to work with members of both parties to get important laws like these passed.
“We don’t often see a lot of that anymore but Dole had the ability to do it,” said political analyst Ron Faucheux. “He was somebody who built strong personal relationships.”
Raymond calls Dole a hero but the battle for equality for Americans with disabilities is still not over.
“Bob Dole was a barrier breaker and it’s our job to continue that fight and make sure we are expanding opportunities for people with disabilities.”
The Split-Second Foundation continues to push for legislation to help create more suitable housing, senior living facilities and better ride-share access for people with disabilities.