CHICAGO — December 5, 2021 — Access Living joins many in the disability community today in mourning the death of former United States Senator Bob Dole, who was a fierce advocate and political ally for people with disabilities, among his many other accomplishments.
As a disabled war veteran, Senator Dole was part of early conversations in the 1980s about passing a comprehensive civil rights bill for people with disabilities, which eventually became the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that he tirelessly championed. Additionally, in 1984, Senator Dole created the Dole Foundation to support the employment of people with disabilities.
It was during this time period that Senator Dole first became acquainted with Access Living, through a friendship and working relationship with our founding President and CEO, Marca Bristo.
“Bob Dole was a friend and supporter of the work of Access Living from that day to this,” said Karen Tamley, Access Living’s current President and CEO, who also has a disability, and took on the role after Bristo’s passing in 2019.
“I first met him the day the ADA was signed and will never forget it. I always valued his unwavering support of the disability community here in Chicago, nationwide, and around the world, as he worked to better our lives by sharing his experience with disability with all political leaders as well as amplifying our voices on important issues.”
Senator Dole was an essential ally in the Senate fight to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in 2012 dramatically taking to the Senate floor in support of it. Although that ratification effort ultimately failed, Senator Dole truly believed in the vision of human rights for people with disabilities around the world.
His dedication to independent living and disability rights stemmed in part from his day-to-day lived experience with disability. Early in their acquaintance, Bristo asked Senator Dole about the practical side of living life with the use of only one hand — the result of a World War II injury.
He shared that the worst part was trying to get his socks on by himself. Bristo said that she, and a number of other people with disabilities, used an adaptive tool to get their socks on by themselves every day. Senator Dole took her up on that suggestion, and began using the tool himself.
Much can and will be said about Senator Dole’s political legacy, but at Access Living, we will always remember him as a friend, supporter, and fellow person with a disability who never hesitated to get in the trenches with us. His disability work was an early bridge to the rich and diverse landscape of disability advocacy today. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this time of grief and loss.