President George H.W. Bush's signature legislation the ADA, roots in the Bay Area

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- President George H.W. Bush's signature piece of legislation was the Americans with Disabilities Act-- a landmark civil rights law with roots in the Bay Area.

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"I can't even imagine what our life would be like," said Juliet Barraza. Her son, Benjamin, has a seizure disorder.

"Every door is open to him, every door and it's because of the ADA and I actually get kind of emotional just thinking about it," said Barraza.

That door opening advocacy for people with disabilities started in the Bay Area and UC Berkeley in the 1960's and 70's.

"Prior to the ADA there wasn't a far-reaching law that said people with disabilities had a right to access to public accommodations, to the workplace," said Karen Nielson, UC Berkeley Disabled Students Program Executive Director.

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Civil rights attorney Arlene Mayerson cofounded the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in the 70's. The organization then worked with President George HW Bush's administration.

"It was because of President Bush's leadership that his administration spent the time and had the commitment and worked directly with people with disabilities," said Mayerson.

She and thousands of people with disabilities joined President Bush in the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. It prohibits discrimination based on disability.

"It was like the Declaration of Independence for people with disabilities-- days that many people in that audience thought they'd never see," said Mayerson.

In a 1999 interview, President Bush talked about why he supported it.

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"It was the fair and right thing to do. I think there are a lot of people who if given access to the workplace, for example, can achieve things. But if they are denied that they are denied a shot at the American dream," said President Bush.

For more stories, pictures and videos about former President George H.W. Bush, go here.
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