What President Bush’s service dog means to the history of disability rights

What is a hero?

On most days, it is those who fight to fulfill the needs of people with disabilities, people experiencing homelessness, children, people diagnosed with cancer, veterans, and other vulnerable people. At our organization, it is our staff, partners, and volunteers who work diligently for inclusion and equality.

Some days, it is a Vice President who, approached about ending discrimination against people with disabilities, becomes President and signs into law a groundbreaking bill upholding disability rights.

And on some very rare, sullen days, it is that very same man’s service animal, lying at the wake of one of the men and women who, supported by countless disability advocates, made our civil rights efforts possible.

This morning I read an article that I found tragic and offensive published by Slate, through the lens of a narrow worldview, criticizing the outpouring of support for Sully and calling it “demented to project soul-wrenching grief onto a dog’s decision to lie down in front of a casket.”

 

Inside, in front of a coffin covered in the American flag, between two floor lamps in a dimly lit room, a yellow labrador curls up on the carpet wearing a service vest

Photo credit: Jim McGrath, Twitter

Most of us have never known how it feels to need a service animal. And we rarely consider the impact of anyone who gives a lifetime (or even six months) in service to another, whether a caregiver at home with loved ones, a teacher providing special education services, an advocate researching policy, or a lawyer holding accountable those who choose convenience or profit over inclusion.

Perhaps if the author stepped back for a moment, she would see that this picture of Sully before the casket might not have been possible if not for the work of all those who created the ADA — and the signature of George H.W. Bush on that bill. This image of Sully could change the hearts and minds of just a few who, tomorrow, may take an effort to be more inclusive.

Today, you can be a hero. Share the photo of Sully. Talk about the rich history of disability rights, encompassed in this photo, with your network and across social media. Join me in rejecting the facile notion that six months in service to a man with a disability doesn’t deserve our reverence and respect.

 

In an iconic photo from 1990, President George HW Bush sits at a desk outside, signing the ADA, surrounded by four other people, two standing and two using wheelchairs

Find a way to contribute to your favorite disability rights nonprofit, even if it is not the DRLC.

Reflect on the life of the man who signed the ADA, and celebrate Sully and all that he represents in our journey toward a more inclusive society.

 

Best,

Jordan Kough
Executive Director
Disability Rights Legal Center

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