Chapter 34. Victory
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542 34 Victory With the Chapman amendment defeated, the ADA now rolled toward passage. There was, however, one last problem that had to be resolved before both houses could vote on the final bill. Patrisha Wright (continued) “It was an incredible sight to see that many disabled people . . . sitting on the lawn of the White House.” In addition to powerful rhetoric and dramatic street theater, the campaign to pass the ADA also saw moments bordering on the absurd. Here Patrisha Wright recounts one of these, coming just before the final vote and the signing ceremony on the White House lawn. There was another amendment put on the floor by our friend Senator Hatch, which led to the most Fellini-esque scene I have ever had in my disability lobbying career. We were in the Senate anteroom, which is this really historic, ornate room with pictures of great orators painted on the wall. In the low periods of lobbying—of which there are a lot—you sit there and wait. You look around that room, and understand that Martin Luther King sat here. It’s that type of emotion-filled room. And off to one side is the vice president’s chamber, where you could go in and, depending on what your relationship is, watch the debate, because there’s no television in that room. You’re just outside the Senate Chamber, and so there is a gaggle of lobbyists there, of all shapes and sizes and types, anybody who has a bill pending. And you wait there and you offer technical assistance to the members, if they have a problem on the floor. victory 543 We’re in this debate on the ADA, and it seems like everything’s going along fine and then Kennedy comes out and says he’s got a problem with Hatch. And the problem with Hatch is this list of kleptomaniacs and compulsive gamblers, and are we offering them protection? Hatch gave us a list of things that he wanted to exempt, and there were lots of mental illness–type disabilities in the DSM-III.1 So we were going back and forth and back and forth, him saying this person can’t stay in, this person can stay in, this person can’t. “Are we going to give pyromaniacs, they burn down the building but we give them civil rights?” So as he’s trying to exclude people from protection, in walks the Easter Seals handicapped kid, the “very special” kid of the year. And he props this kid up on the table that’s in the room, and does this photo op about being a friend of the disability community and helping disabled children. We’re in the vice president’s room, debating all these people he wants to take off the list. And there was always the debate about transvestites. Congress had real problems with trannys at that time. It was difficult because you don’t want to be arguing that a person who is transgender is mentally ill, and so therefore should be covered under the mental illness provision. People who were transgender would tell you that they’re not mentally ill, they’re transgender, they were just born the wrong gender. The transgender lobby was mixed because they wanted civil rights. We all debated and came to the conclusion that having them be declared a disability would not be the best way to ensure their civil rights. But yes, there were lots of members who were very emphatic about excluding transvestites. And Senator Hatch really didn’t like them.2 A final version of the ADA was approved by the House of Representatives on July 12, 1990, by a vote of 377 to 28. The next day it passed the Senate by a vote of 91 to 6. Despite these margins, Patrisha Wright and the team around her took nothing for granted until the final vote was cast. Anybody who does bills does their own whip count. The House and Senate both do whip counts, and you do your own whip count and my count was just about on. I think I missed it by one or two votes. But you’re never sure until it’s over. Somebody from Sheboygan could call in, and their member says, “I’m voting with you,” and then somewhere during 544 chapter 34 the walk from that telephone to voting on the floor, they’ve been grabbed by two or three other lobbyists...


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Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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