In honor of President’s Day, we’re taking a moment to recognize several US Presidents who have been influential in working to ensure equality and assistance for individuals with disabilities.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Roosevelt was the first, and only to-date, president with a physical disability. Diagnosed with polio at the age of 39, Roosevelt used a wheelchair. In 1938, he founded the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now known today as the March of Dimes. The foundation’s initial focus was on the rehabilitation of patients with polo. The foundation supported the efforts of doctors like Jonas Salk, who were working towards finding a polo vaccine. Today, the foundation works to prevent premature births as well as congenital disabilities.
President John F. Kennedy
President Kennedy’s sister Rosemary had both intellectual and physical disabilities. His sister Eunice, who founded the Special Olympics, encouraged him to address the issues of disability publicly and to use his presidential platform to bring change and improvement. During his presidency, Kennedy was influential in establishing several legal acts to support research and treatment for people with disabilities.
President George H.W. Bush
In 1990, President George H.W. Bush enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most comprehensive and pivotal civil rights laws for people with disabilities. The Act opened many doors to equality, independence and freedom for Americans with disabilities.
President Barack Obama
During his administration, President Obama worked to further the efforts of the ADA by increasing protections against disability-based discrimination, improving accessibility in our communities and expanding equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
President Obama also reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which increased support for the inclusion of students with disabilities and ensures that teachers are prepared to meet the needs of diverse learners as well as measure the performance of those students.
Obama also enacted the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which provided many benefits for people with disabilities including ending discrimination based on pre-existing medical conditions, medical history or genetic information.
More work can be done to help those with disabilities. Hopefully, current and future administrations will continue to work towards further progress.
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