Pondering the Meaning of Liberty

Pondering the Meaning of Liberty

By Mark E. Seifarth

As of late, my pen and my keyboard have been a bit silent as I sort through the cacophony of opinions & ideas on the recent nation shattering events.

Then, on an early morning news and comment program, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Jon Meacham gave me a gift, he spoke about a quote from President Ronald Reagan about losing liberty and freedom.

I believe the quote in part reads, “”Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

As we try to put the historic events of the last months into context and relevance, and how to address the deaths and injuries of Capitol Police Officers defending the U.S. Capitol, let’s ponder for a few brief moment what freedom and liberty have meant to the disability community.

Full disclosure, I look at this through the view of a person with a lifelong disability who personally experienced one and more of these current events.

What it has meant thus far, that we still have much liberty and equality yet to achieve for people with disabilities, and perhaps with importance, what it means to lose our liberty and our country’s liberty.

Let us remember just some examples of over more than 50 years of hard work and sweat that achieved liberty:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensuring equal access to free public education and appropriate special education for children with disabilities.
  • Rehabilitation Act (and its many subsequent iterations) not only giving access to job training services and later independent living services & centers for people with disabilities but also very importantly Rehabilitation Act Section 504 banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act & subsequent ADA Amendments – The White House archives called the ADA “a landmark moment in history.”    “…On July 26, 1990…America became the first country to adopt a comprehensive civil rights declaration for people with disabilities. The ADA was a landmark moment in history, designed to provide universal accessibility in the areas of employment, public service, public accommodations, and telecommunications.”
  • Olmstead Decision – the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With those examples of achievements in the disability movement, we must remember that we have yet far to go under the protection of our Democratic Republic that for over 200 years has espoused freedom and liberty for all, not just those with the biggest club. Just a few examples of yet to do:

  • Repeal Section 14 ( c ) of the Fair Labor Standards Act permitting subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.
  • Equal access to Home and Community-Based Services – so people with disabilities have equal access in our society and to their communities where they wish to live with informed choices.
  • Access to affordable high-speed internet and technology across the country in both urban and rural locations.
  • All have access to affordable health care coverage without having to live in poverty.

So, why the brief history lesson of what has been achieved and the short litany of work yet to be done?

Because perhaps John Meacham and President Reagan have shown us a path to the future.

Without our Democratic Republic with its Three Branches of Government (Executive, Legislative, Judiciary) – where one branch does not attempt to take over the others – we would never have had the opportunities to achieve the equal access we have thus far and continue to work for a fairer more inclusive future.

With respect, do not forget governments in this world that disregarded liberty & freedom and how the rights & lives of people were cast away with that liberty.

Our history teaches us that we must preserve the freedom and liberty of persons with disabilities (and all people) in each generation to come.

Remember when other governments decided our rights and lives had no value and acted accordingly.


Virtual Release of the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium Conference continues all week.

Register Now!




Date: February 9-12, 2021 | 12:00pm – 1:15pm (ET) each day
Location: Online via Zoom Webcast
Cost: Free
Follow along on social media at: #DisabilityCompendiumEvent

We hope you will join us for our four-part virtual release of the Annual Disability Statistics Compendium on February 9-12, 2021, 12:00-1:15 pm. During this webinar series, experts will present three web-based tools (Compendium, Supplement, and State Report) that make finding and using disability statistics easier for individuals working on legislative and other matters relating to persons with disabilities.

February 9th was recorded and will be available on website soon.

Live captioning and ASL interpretation will be provided during this event.

Speaker List (PDF)

Agenda (View as PDF)

Day 1 (Tuesday, Feb. 9): Release of the Annual Report and Compendium

Moderator: Andrew Houtenville (UNH)

Day 2 (Wednesday, Feb. 10): Federal Data Collection and Adjusting to COVID Environment

Moderator: Kirstin Painter (NIDILRR)

  • Rapid Changes to U.S. Census Bureau Household Surveys: Data Collection During COVID-19
    Jason Fields (Census Bureau)
  • Health Data
    Julie Weeks (CDC/NCHS)
  • The Occupational Requirements Survey
    Michelle Dressner (BLS)
  • Disability Employment Data and Trends During COVID-19
    Chris McLaren (ODEP)
  • Questions & Answers

Day 3 (Thursday, Feb. 11): Impact of COVID-19 for People with Disabilities

Moderator: Amanda Reichard (NIDILRR)

  • Intersection of Race, Disability, and COVID-19: A Machine Learning Approach
    Allison Kolbe (ASPE)
  • Use of Telehealth
    Kimberly Phillips (UNH)
  • Employment Trends and State Patterns
    Andrew Houtenville & Shreya Paul (UNH)
  • Food Sufficiency
    Debra Brucker (UNH)
  • Questions & Answers

Day 4 (Friday, Feb. 12): Disability and African Americans

Moderator: Shelly Reeves (NIDILRR)

  • Infographic: Social Inequities Experienced by African Americans
    Kimberly Phillips & Marisa Rafal (UNH) 
  • COVID-19 Agenda among African Americans with Disabilities: A Social Determinants of Health Perspective
    Edward Manyibe & Andre Washington (RRTC on Research and Capacity Building for Minority Entities, Langston University)
  • Questions & Answers
  • Closing Commentary
    David Wittenburg & David Mann (Mathematica)
  • Quick Closing Remarks
    Andrew Houtenville (UNH)

(Agenda is subject to change)

Hollywood Committing to Include More Actors with Disabilities

Gradually, over time, we have seen more and more people with disabilities in acting roles on television and in the movies. This week, NBC Universal vowed to continue that trend by committing to audition actors with disabilities for every project, a commitment to “creating content that authentically reflects the world we live in.” NBC is the second such studio to make such a commitment, after CBS made a similar commitment in 2019. I think it is incredibly important for people with disabilities to be portrayed on screen. Just folks working, as actors.

I’ve always been a believer our attitudes toward and comfort with people with disabilities in public life is improved if they are “just there.” Not flattering or overly sentimental portrayals, just presence. My kids grew up on our street with a girl (adult woman now) who has significant developmental disabilities. Maddie is just there — she’s part of life on Bowerman Street; she’s part of life in general. There were two dozen school-age kids on our street and all of them grew up with her and learned – as is so often the case in life – that having people with disabilities around as part of your life is no big deal. They went out into world as better people for it.

This is the best step Hollywood could take, by hiring more actors with disabilities. It needs to be more than just having characters with disabilities, however. The Ruderman Family Foundation recently published a report stating that only 22% of roles portraying people with disabilities were filled by actors who were authentically disabled. My youngest daughter enjoys streaming the show Glee, which is about a high school singing club. One of the characters is a person in a wheelchair who, to my surprise, during a dream sequence one episode, arose and started dancing to Michael Jackson’s Bad. This is how I came to know that the actor was playing someone in a wheelchair, rather than an actor in a wheelchair playing a talented high school student. This was a bit disappointing. Better than nothing, but a bit disappointing all the same.

Of course, unless you are playing yourself, you are always trying to portray someone you are not. It’s called acting. And the skill set required to be on Glee is world class, so it may not be that simple to find actors in wheelchairs who fit the bill (and there is also a character on Glee with Down’s Syndrome who is being played by someone with Down’s, to their credit). I think Hollywood would do well just to consider all characters in movies and think, “Is there a reason this couldn’t be played by someone with a disability?” An actor who uses a wheelchair can’t play Jason Bourne, but there were many meaningful characters in the Bourne movies that weren’t scaling buildings, fighting bad guys, and jumping through windows.

Sometimes, when they want the person with a disability to be that guy, it gets complicated. A few years ago, Ben Affleck made a movie called “The Accountant,” about an adult with autism who is an accounting savant with the combat skills of a Green Beret. He is an off-the-books accountant for various organized crime and underworld figures, who keeps finding himself in positions of having to go on killing rampages in order for justice to prevail. It is truly a bizarre movie, finding about the oddest way imaginable to turn an accountant – and a person with high-functioning autism – into an action hero. It’s not terrible as far as action movies go, but it is troubling to watch a character with autism violently kill. It is what heroes do in these movies, but it is still unsettling. I don’t know that we’re better for it.

In the movie, he receives his synthesized, intelligence audio directives from a female character known as “The Voice,” who (spoiler alert) turns out to also be someone with a more severe form autism (and, true to form, played by someone who does not have autism). Ultimately, I think perhaps the cause of showing the talents of people with autism might have been better served if she – the brains of the outfit – had been the only person with autism in the movie, rather than having the Ben Affleck character running around killing dozens of folks.

Still, Hollywood has made progress. Several years ago, I started a library of historical Hollywood movies focused on disabilities. The history of Hollywood and disabilities is, to understate, hit and miss. There are wonderful movies like The Miracle Worker, about the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. If You Could See What I Hear was a wonderful slice-of-life movie about musician Tom Sullivan. And Fear Strikes Out is a compelling look at the world of mental illness through the eyes of major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall.

Others were not so good. Some were awful. None was stranger – or worse – than the movie called Freaks, made in 1932, and starring former vaudeville performer Wallace Ford. The first sentence of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia sets the unfortunate tone for this unfortunate movie: “A conniving trapeze artist named Cleopatra seduces a carnival sideshow midget named Hans after learning of his large inheritance…” One guesses that if you just stopped right there, you’d be doing yourself a favor. And you’d be right.

The main premise of the movie is that a “normal” person couldn’t or wouldn’t fall in love with a person with dwarfism, and wouldn’t look to associate herself with the other carnival characters in the movie – the bearded lady, Siamese twins, various actors missing arms and legs, someone who is half man and half woman, and two female characters with significant developmental disabilities known as “Pinhead Pip” and “Pinhead Zip.” In my opinion it is a truly awful film, and a depressing and dreadful depiction of people with disabilities that is painful to watch, even though the characters with disabilities are, by comparison, clearly the good guys.

There is one brief, but truly memorable, scene in the movie, however. Although it has no impact on the plot – whatsoever – there is a 38-second scene (available on YouTube) where Prince Randian, an actor with no arms or legs, while listening to another character’s soliloquy, is shown going through the complex, multi-step process of lighting his own cigarette. It’s impressive. It’s the most – and perhaps only – impressive thing in this ridiculous film.

Needless to say, Hollywood has come a long way. There are far more realistic and authentic portrayals these days of people with disabilities. There are far more roles being created for and filled by people with disabilities. This is good. I applaud NBC Universal and CBS for these important steps. People with disabilities are part of life. If art imitates life, they should be part of our art, as well. Finding ways to work people with disabilities into realistic roles will make for better movies. And it will be better for all of us.

Ohio Lays Out Plan to Get Covid Vaccine to People with Disabilities

First a note of full disclosure: I have a significant bias toward Mike DeWine, for which I do not apologize. This comes in large measure by the fact that I’ve been happily married to his daughter for 28 years and am the father to six of his grandchildren. This bias didn’t matter too much when he was Lieutenant Governor from 1991-1995, or at all when he was out of politics from 2007-2011. But it matters a lot now that he’s governor, so that should always be taken into consideration on these pages.

On Tuesday, Governor DeWine laid out a plan to soon open the state’s vaccine supply to Ohio’s developmental disability population. I want to thank the governor for including people with disabiltiies in the vaccine rollout. It is critical that people with disabilities be included, as they are often more vulnerable to health problems due to the complex nature of their medical conditions. It should be stated that many Ohioans with disabilities are already being vaccinated, as people who live in congregate settings often meet the definition of a person with a disability. It is commendable that the state Department of Health has taken this next step to include those with developmental and intellectual disabilities as well.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, starting next week, those who qualify for the vaccine must have a developmental or intellectual disability and one of the following disabilities:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Severe congenital heart disease
  • Severe type 1 diabetes requiring hospitalization within the past year
  • Inherited metabolic disorders, including phenylketonuria
  • Severe neurological disorders, including epilepsy, hydrocephaly and microcephaly
  • Severe genetic disorders, including Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome and muscular dystrophy
  • Severe lung disease, including asthma requiring hospitalization within the past year and cystic fibrosis
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Alpha and beta thalassemia
  • Solid organ transplants

If you or a loved one meet this criteria, you should check with your local health department to learn of locations available to you to begin the vaccine process. More information is also available on the state’s coronavirus website, coronavirus.ohio.gov.

Based on reporting one week ago in the Washington Post, Ohio appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to getting the vaccine to citizens with disabilities. Many states appear to be moving people with disabilities down the list of priorities. In the article in the Post, one gentleman who uses a wheelchair was not eligible because he does not live in a group home. Other states have different rules on whether caregivers (often family members) also qualify. It’s messy. Things can get complicated when you leave matters of disability determination to the states.

But rolling out the vaccine to “people with disabilities” is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. Disability is a complex construct in the human condition. The mere presence of a condition doesn’t necessarily indicate disabilty. For example, one may have a mild case of cerebral palsy and not be significantly impaired by it. Epilepsy may or may not be a disability, depending upon the severity of the condition and the impact it has on your daily life. In fact, the definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act specifically stresses the impact a condition has on your activities of daily living, as opposed to just its mere presence. When attempting to prove total disability under SSI or SSDI, the list of conditions that automatically qualify you for it is very short indeed. In almost every case it comes back to the impact of the condition, not the presence of it.

Other conditions such as congenital blindness or deafness may have no impact on how susceptible these populations would be should they contract Covid19. There are many people with disabilities who would be categorized (if there were such a category) as “otherwise healthy.” If a person has a disability which does not put them at advanced risk to Covid, there is no reason they should be placed ahead of another person in a higher risk category.

I’m sure the state will do as much as possible to get as many at risk people with disabilities immunized. Many different organizations, including Disability Rights Ohio, have been meeting all along and providing input to the state. It’s important work and, as stated, not as simple as it may seem at the outset.

Again, thanks go out to Governor DeWine, to Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, the Ohio Department of Health, and to everyone working to make sure that people with developmental disabilities are valued, cared for, and included in this difficult time.

A Time for Work

Mark E. Seifarth 

Every two years we elect U.S. House Members and one-third of the U.S. Senate. Every two years we elect legislators in our states all across this country.

Every four years we elect and inaugurate the President of our United States. Today is that day.

Here’s a Presidential Inaugural Day thought or two by way of comparison.

In many ways our great and diverse country is not unlike the great and diverse disability community. We are all different and yet we all work toward common goals as well.

One of the first things I learned when I began working on disability policy and public policy almost 40 years ago is the only disability I can speak about is my own. I can talk about being a person with Cerebral Palsy. We all work together so all persons with disabilities can speak for themselves and we can move forward for full inclusion in employment, our communities and our lives as equals with all our fellow Americans.

But, perhaps there are other questions to contemplate today.

Part of the reason that we as a varied United States and a varied disability community come together is because we all have work to be done. Employment work; Access work; Community work; Reasonable Accommodation work; Equality & Equity work;

So is not Inauguration Day a time to ponder the work? The work as a country we have done and the work yet to be accomplished.

The question for our elected officials, our disability community, our advocates, our neighbors, our friends is can you do the work? Will you do the work?

I think we all want to work toward goals to improve ourselves, our communities, our country. That takes effort, commitment, and yes, work.

One can ask the question and perhaps should ask the question periodically, have our elected officials done the work? Have we done the work?

Have we increased access to health care for those with no or limited access?

Have we improved Medicaid so that people can stay healthy and out of unnecessary and expensive hospital stays?

Have we examined Medicare so that our seniors and others so we can stay healthy and continue to contribute in our communities?

Have our states and our federal government worked together and not just tried to foist the responsibility on each other without resulting in a better use of scare resources?

I could go on and on…

And I realize we are in a time of a once in a century pandemic that has taken up much of the available resources. But again, have our federal, state, and local governments worked together during a time of unprecedented need?

I raise all this on Inauguration day to look to our history and look to our future.

Our great country has worked together through depression/recession, world wars, unrest, and now a pandemic. The disability community has worked together through the Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ADA Amendments, and so many others so we have equal access, equity, and equality.

I submit for your consideration: Have we done the work in the past four years? Have we tried to do the work in the past four years?

With that examination, I will conclude with the much more difficult questions.

Can we move forward together? With all our grand diversity, and our chosen spiritual guidance, are we prepared to support each other as we agree and disagree? Are we ready for the work ahead? 

What is each of us ready to do to empower ourselves, educate our elected officials, and do the work?


New Samsung TV models to be more accessible for people with hearing or visual disabilities

Great news for people with disabilities who may wish to start the new year out with a new large-screen television. According to cnet.com, Samsung announced that their new QLED and neo-QLED television models will have advanced features for those with hearing or visual disabilities.

The new features include “Closed Caption and Text,” allowing the user to move the closed captioning text, if necessary, to another part of the screen so as to not block important visual contact. I can attest to this problem, as I have spent many hours making sure the closed captioning of our YouTube videos did not obscure anything a person with a hearing impairment needed to see.

“We don’t want to exclude anyone,” Byungho Kim, of Samsung’s social contribution center in Suwon, said in a video during Samsung’s Wednesday event. “Our technology is for everyone.”

Secondly, the Samsung products have “Sign Language Zoom,” which makes it easier to enlarge the screen housing the sign language interpreter. For those fluent in sign langugage, intrepreting the gestures may not be difficult, but interpreting the words that are quickly being spelled out can be very challenging if the box-within-a-box is not sufficiently large. This features allows the user to increase the size of the box, making it easier to understand the interpreter.

New Samsung models also give the user the opportunity to change or invert the color scheme on the menu, making it easier for people with visual impairments to know their options. This will allow for greater navigation for users.

Lastly, Samsung is also working on ways to allow sign language users to turn on their televisions just by making sign language gestures. Many profoundly deaf individuals are also effectively non-verbal, so the ability to turn your “smart” TV on with your voice is not an option. Using the high definition camera and AI, the TV can no understand basic sign language commands.

Congratulations to Samsung, and thank you for starting the year off right with the new CLED and Neo QLED models.

Remembering a Man I Never Met: Mark Hemphill

You never know what days are going to be pivotal turning points in your life – the days that will plot your course. One of mine occurred on October 6, 1979, when I went to a college football game with my father. I was 12. On that Homecoming Saturday, Southern Illinois beat Illinois State 7-0, a detail I had forgotten until I looked it up. But it was a day I will never forget.

During the game, a player from Illinois State fumbled, and about eight guys dove on the turf for the ball. Seven of them got up. One player, wearing the maroon #30 SIU jersey, stayed down. Face down. My father, normally a talkative physician, joined the rest of McAndrew Stadium in a haunting silence. The announcer said the injured Saluki was Mark Hemphill, a player I’d never heard of before. I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand why they didn’t just help him to the sideline so they could check out his arm, or his leg, or whatever. But they just hovered around him. After ten or fifteen minutes an ambulance showed up and drove right on to the field, which I was certain was against the rules. Then they took him away on a stretcher and the game resumed. But I just sat there in a fog – wondering what had just occurred.

A week later they ran a feature in the newspaper saying that he had broken his neck and was a partial quadriplegic. He had no feeling from his chest down but could manage gross motor movements of his arms. Barring a miracle – which his family believed would come – he would never walk again. In a split second, Mark Hemphill had gone from star athlete to a person with a disability, right before my eyes. He left a dorm room in Carbondale for a rehabilitation hospital in St. Louis, his hometown.

Former SIU Saluki football player Mark Hemphill
Former SIU Saluki Football Player Mark Hemphill

I followed his case very closely. His care was paid for by catastrophic insurance carried by SIU for just this purpose, and his policy would end (if memory serves) after $1 million or two years, whichever came first. Mark Hemphill blew through $1 million in about 15 months. He was then left to apply for Medicaid, transferring the cost of his care to the taxpayers of Missouri. It also meant that his 24-hour care attendant would only be available to him 8 hours per day. He filed a lot of lawsuits that were unsuccessful, leaving him with a very uncertain future.

On September 13, 1980, SIU held “Mark Hemphill Day” at McAndrew Stadium. They retired his #30 jersey and all the proceeds from that game would go to Mark to help him pay his bills. And even though it was well over 90° that day, 17,150 fans showed up – the largest crowd in SIU football history. He sat in his wheelchair on the track, under the shade of a tree, due to the heat. Fans were free to go talk to him – but I couldn’t work up the nerve. I really wish I had.

Eventually Mark Hemphill settled into his new life as a person with a disability. He moved into his own apartment and took the nearly $35,000 raised from “Mark Hemphill Day” and purchased an accessible van, one where you controlled the ramp and all the electronics with a set of keys. He went back to school, studying computers at a community college. He was an inspirational figure in the disability community in St. Louis. And he was certainly a hero to one young Saluki fan back in Carbondale.

Friday, November 26, 1982 was a very cold day in St. Louis and Mark Hemphill was studying late at the library. It was the day after Thanksgiving and there weren’t many students around. He went home to his apartment, driving his van into a nearly empty parking lot. They’re not sure exactly what happened next, but the best they can figure out was that after the ramp was partially lowered, he dropped his keys.

And for Mark Hemphill, that’s all it took.

The official cause of death was listed as “exposure,” which was just a way to avoid saying he froze to death. In 1982, there were no cell phones. No one was around on the holiday weekend to hear him and his personal attendant wouldn’t be coming until the next morning. Mark Hemphill died because there was no one with him. His passing made the front page of the St. Louis Post -Dispatch and he was mourned throughout the disability community as a champion.

I’ll never forget the way I felt when I read the news. I was devastated and I just didn’t understand how these things could happen. I was only 15 when he died, but I still think about him a lot. I think about him every time a football player doesn’t get up at the end of a play. And to this day, I still get a sick feeling inside every time I drop my keys.

After I graduated from Miami, I went back to SIU and studied rehabilitation counseling, a discipline that helps people with disabilities become employable and employed. I wrote my master’s thesis about Mark Hemphill’s case and dedicated my doctoral dissertation to #30 of the SIU Salukis. Now I work helping people with disabilities get the technology they need to go to school, to get a job, or to just live independently. To be free.

I never met Mark Hemphill, because I wouldn’t go talk to him under that tree. I hope someday I’ll get to tell him how much he meant to me.

Reflections January 7, 2021 of Yesterday’s U.S. Capitol Riots

Architect of the Capitol Symbol

Reflections January 7, 2021 of Yesterday’s U.S. Capitol Riots

Those who know me/worked with me over almost 40 years of Public Policy impact, know that I have been neither the most conservative nor the most liberal. I have tried to be an honest, informational, educational voice for lawmakers to work with people with disabilities, advocates & families to craft the needed public policy and services for equal access in our communities.

While I consider myself a moderate who works hard to learn and understand both sides of an issue to help craft a useful and workable compromise, this morning I find myself seeing no compromise in the defense of our Republic and Democracy in our country.

I will not go back to our founding fathers and mothers to discuss our democracy and my current sadness on yesterday’s violent occurrences. I will simply speak of things I remember and/or I experienced – and how it illustrates disparate treatment and how we must move forward now to heal this country.

Over 30 years ago, during consideration of the Americans with Disabilities Act in Congress, people with disabilities crawled up the steps of the U.S. Capitol as it demonstrated that our crutches and our wheelchairs had limited or no access and we did not have the same rights as our neighbors in our communities.

People with disabilities have chained themselves to buses, sat in Congress, Statehouses, and government buildings to demand our rights and access – even when these rights were already in law and not being enforced or completed in the needed administrative rules. And we were arrested, dragged out in our wheelchairs – and if immovable – dragged out of our wheelchairs, taken away from our needed mobility and medical devices and arrested.

So here is my question today from an old white guy with a lifelong disability:

Why were people with disabilities arrested when we protested for our rights, but rioters who engulfed the U.S. Capitol yesterday by and large were not? They were simply herded out of the Capitol after destruction trying to stop the acceptance of the Electoral College votes for our President. (Full disclosure: so far about 50 of the thousands were arrested.)

Now, I am not a person of color, but of the thousands of persons who overran the U.S. Capitol yesterday and were not stopped or arrested by law enforcement – of all the news coverage pictures – I visually saw only one person of color. Contrast this with the many Black Lives Matter protests and the peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House who were either arrested or violently pushed out.

I’m not asking you to simply agree with me, but please quietly in your own mind and heart consider the question:  Are people with disabilities and others treated differently? Have yesterday’s riots and protests bought this treatment again into the stark light of day to be addressed? I’m just saying. . .

Former Governor/Attorney General Richard Thornburgh Dies – Bipartisan ADA Advocate

Let’s pause to remember Dick Thornburgh – who on behalf of President George H. W. Bush, worked in a bipartisan way with Democrats & Republicans in the U.S. House & U.S. Senate to help craft the Americans with Disabilities Act that President Bush supported and signed into law July 1990.
Washington Post December 31, 2020 – partial quote of complete article further below:
“…One of Mr. Thornburgh’s policy triumphs as attorney general emerged from the Justice Department’s civil rights division. He served as the Bush administration’s point man in the passage of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which broadened the scope of civil rights for people with disabilities. He reassured lawmakers wary of the cost of new regulations on businesses, countering with the benefit to productivity and the economy from contributions by workers with disabilities.

The passage had been personally satisfying for Mr. Thornburgh, whose son Peter suffered from the effects of a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 1960. The accident had also taken the life of Mr. Thornburgh’s first wife…”



Richard L. Thornburgh, former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. attorney general, dies at 88

By Louie Estrada Dec. 31, 2020 at 2:50 p.m. EST

Richard L. Thornburgh, a former crime-busting federal prosecutor who unflappably led Pennsylvania through the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis as the state’s two-term governor and served as U.S. attorney general from 1988 to 1991, died Dec. 31 at a retirement community in Oakmont, Pa. He was 88.

His son David Thornburgh confirmed his death but did not cite a specific cause.

In the summer of 1988, President Ronald Reagan needed to replace besieged Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who had resigned amid charges of ethics violations for mixing personal finances with government business and for allegedly helping cover up the White House’s role in the Iran-contra scandal. The administration sought a Republican with a law enforcement background and a track record of public integrity to take quick command of the Justice Department.

Mr. Thornburgh, who was tall, with a boyish, round face and horn-rimmed glasses, seemed an ideal candidate. Schooled in engineering and law, he was widely seen as methodical, effective and cool under extreme pressure.

As the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania from 1969 to 1975, he won convictions against organized-crime figures as well as police chiefs, city council members, mayors and other public officials who collectively took millions of dollars in bribes from mobsters.

For Mr. Thornburgh, the biggest professional challenge came not in a courtroom but rather in a trial-by-fire in crisis management when, as governor, he helped avert pandemonium during the Three Mile Island crisis in 1979, the most serious nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history.

He arrived in Washington amid high expectations to take control of a Justice Department reeling from Meese’s tenure.

Mr. Thornburgh served in the Reagan Cabinet for five months, then was asked to remain as attorney general in the new administration of George H.W. Bush even though some Republican leaders expressed doubts about his conservative bona fides. He was widely regarded as a GOP moderate, especially in contrast to Meese, a blunt and polarizing campaigner against abortion rights and affirmative action, and on other cultural flash points.

In the ensuing three years as U.S. attorney general, Mr. Thornburgh led the Justice Department during its investigation of the bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, as well as cases involving Colombian drug cartels and global money-laundering operations.

But the glare of national media scrutiny, harsh battles of political partisanship and legal turf wars took a toll on Mr. Thornburgh’s “Mr. Clean” reputation.

His department faced scrutiny for its slow pace — compared with those of state prosecutors — in pursuing prosecutions of Charles H. Keating Jr. and other fraudsters in the multibillion-dollar savings-and-loan crisis that had cost millions of Americans their life savings.

Mr. Thornburgh also was accused by congressional Democrats of protecting the White House in a tangled scandal dubbed “Iraqgate.” It appeared to involve members of the American and Italian governments, a multibillion-dollar bank fraud in the Atlanta branch of an Italian bank, and an arms buildup by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq amid the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

One of the bankers went to prison for his role in making illicit loans. But the Justice Department, under Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, issued a report in 1995 absolving members of the Bush administration of misconduct.

One of Mr. Thornburgh’s policy triumphs as attorney general emerged from the Justice Department’s civil rights division. He served as the Bush administration’s point man in the passage of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which broadened the scope of civil rights for people with disabilities. He reassured lawmakers wary of the cost of new regulations on businesses, countering with the benefit to productivity and the economy from contributions by workers with disabilities.

The passage had been personally satisfying for Mr. Thornburgh, whose son Peter suffered from the effects of a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 1960. The accident had also taken the life of Mr. Thornburgh’s first wife.

Richard Lewis Thornburgh was born in Rosslyn Farms, a prosperous suburb of Pittsburgh, on July 16, 1932. His family consisted almost entirely of engineers and Republican Party stalwarts.

He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Yale University in 1954 and graduated three years later from the University of Pittsburgh law school. He spent most of his early legal career with the law firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Pittsburgh.

He said the car accident that killed his wife, the former Virginia Hooton, and severely injured his son prompted soul-searching about his future.

He was remarried in 1963 to a former schoolteacher and three years later sought public office, running for the U.S. House of Representatives on a platform that included advocating for civil rights initiatives and de-escalating U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. He lost the race.

In 1969, the newly elected Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, named Mr. Thornburgh the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

His diligence in prosecuting cases caught the attention of higher-ups in Washington and, in 1975, he was elevated to assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal division. The next year, he helped create the public integrity section to investigate allegations of political corruption.

In 1978, he won the gubernatorial race against former Pittsburgh mayor Peter F. Flaherty. Nothing in the campaign could have prepared him for what unfolded eight weeks into his first term.

On the morning of March 28, 1979, while meeting with state lawmakers about budget issues, Mr. Thornburgh received a phone call that there had been an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, located on a sandbar in the middle of the Susquehanna River about 10 miles downstream from the state capital, Harrisburg.

A chain of events involving mechanical failure, design flaws and human error led to the partial meltdown of the reactor core in Unit 2 at the nuclear power plant.

Mr. Thornburgh urged residents in the surrounding area to remain calm as he tried to get a grasp on what was happening at the plant. Using his prosecutorial questioning skills to cut through contradictory information during the early days of the crisis, he determined that the situation wasn’t as bad as some had feared but that government officials needed to remain vigilant.

After engineers regained control of Three Mile Island, Mr. Thornburgh led President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter on a tour of the facility to help put a jittery public at ease.

Mr. Thornburgh spent many more years working on the Three Mile Island cleanup efforts, but he also focused his attention on the state’s declining industrial-based economy. He cut personal and business tax rates and balanced the state’s budgets for each of his eight years in office. He also helped forge partnerships to lure technology companies.

“He really understood the evolution of the old economy of coal, iron and steel to the new economy of finance, real estate and technology,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “After Three Mile Island, which he handled brilliantly, with calm and deliberate decision-making, his job approval soared.”

Prohibited by state law from running for a third term, Mr. Thornburgh was soon in Washington as the newly appointed U.S. attorney general.

In 1991, he left the Justice Department when Senate Republican leaders persuaded him to run in a special election for the U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania after the death of John Heinz (R-Pa.) in a plane crash. Painted as a Washington insider, he was defeated in a stunning upset by Harris Wofford, a former president of Bryn Mawr College, who rode anti-Bush sentiments to victory.

Survivors include his wife, the former Ginny Walton Judson of Oakmont; three sons from his first marriage, John Thornburgh of Wexford, Pa., David Thornburgh of Philadelphia and Peter Thornburgh of Pittsburgh; a son from his second marriage, William Thornburgh of Pittsburgh; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Mr. Thornburgh, who became counsel to the law firm K & L Gates in Washington, continued to give speeches about the value of holding elective office.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” he said in a 2009 address at the University of Pennsylvania. “And politics is an honorable calling. All of us must exercise the opportunity to contribute to improving and sustaining higher levels of performance in public life. This involves much more than simply voting or even being part of a focus group or responding to poll questions. And it is just as important in contests for the local school board as in those for higher office.”

Ohio is the birthplace of vocational rehabilitation for Americans with Disabilities

After graduating from Miami University, I went back to my hometown of Carbonale to begin a master’s degree program in rehabilitation counseling at Southern Illinois University. Like rehab counseling students across the country – every year – I began by learning about the foundational laws that brought the field of vocational rehabilitation into being. There are several of these laws but chief among them was the Smith-Fess Act of 1920, the law that established the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation program. This program was set up to help injured soldiers returning from World War I to learn new skills so they could continue to have productive lives after their military service was done.

Eventually, the Smith-Fess Act of 1920 was replaced by the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which established the nationwide state-federal vocational rehabilitation program that we have today. Through this program, millions of Americans with disabilities have been able to receive training leading toward employment careers. Many professionals in the field today – including those from Ohio – may not realize the vital role Ohio played in establishing this incredibly important system.

Simeon Fess, one of the bill’s champions, was from Ohio. He was a graduate of Ohio Northern University and in 1907 became the president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs. In 1912, Mr. Fess ran for Congress, sucessfully, thus beginning a remarkable legislative career in Washington. He would serve 5 terms in the House of Representatives and then 12 years in the United States Senate. Along the way, he pushed through a bill – the Smith – Fess Act of 1920 – that would change the employment landscape for Americans with disabilities for generations to come. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of passage of the Smith-Fess Act.

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities – Ohio’s state-federal VR program – put out a video hosted by our governor, honoring the life and accomplishments of Simeon Fess. It turns out Governor DeWine and Senator Fess have a lot in common: They are both from Yellow Springs, they both graduated from the Ohio Northern College of Law, and they both went on to serve in Congress and the Senate. In 1998, then-Senator DeWine was given the responsibility of reauthorizing the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, the law that began with Simeon Fess’ vision for a better life for Americans with Disabilities. Senator Fess passed away in 1936 and was laid to rest in Glen Forest Cemetary in Yellow Springs – directly across the street from Mike DeWine’s childhood home.

Please enjoy this short video and be proud of the role Ohio has played in making lives better for Americans with disabilities, through the generations.