Bob Dole Was a ‘Linchpin’ in Passing the Americans With Disabilities Act

Bob Dole Was a ‘Linchpin’ in Passing the Americans With Disabilities Act

“Raising the question of cost does not mean I support discrimination against people with disabilities,” he remarked in one committee hearing, where he argued that it was necessary to consider the bill’s costs and what could be done to mitigate them.

At the time the A.D.A. was introduced, Mr. Dole was being pressured by other Republican senators to draft his own competing disability bill, according to Maureen West, the legislative assistant who advised him on disability issues. In testimony around that time, Mr. Dole said he supported the concept of the bill, but he expressed concern that it would create unreasonable burdens for businesses and “cause a flood of unnecessary litigation.”

But after hearing from dozens of people with disabilities, Mr. Dole, then the Senate minority leader, decided to support the A.D.A.

“It just made him rethink the importance and the momentum that there was behind this bill at that time,” Ms. West said. “I walked out with him, he was pretty quiet, and he said, ‘We gotta make this bill happen.’”

Without Mr. Dole, several advocates said, it was possible the A.D.A. never would have passed. Or that, at the least, passage would have been significantly harder.

“Dole was our linchpin to the Republicans,” said former Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa and one of the lawmakers who introduced the A.D.A. He explained that Mr. Dole often told him of any problems Republicans had with the bill and helped legislators modify the bill to address those concerns. He also helped sell businesses on the bill by framing it as an investment they could make to gain a new customer base.

Mr. Dole’s involvement led to key provisions in the bill, Mr. Harkin said, such as the requirement that accommodations needed to be “reasonable,” ensuring that complying with the A.D.A. would not bankrupt a company, and tax credits that helped small businesses pay for the costs of putting accommodations into place.

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