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The ADA Legacy Project

Moments in Disability History 13

Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., Original "Father" of
the Americans with Disabilities Act

Lowell P. Weicker, Jr., United States Senator from Connecticut from 1971 to 1989, was an advocate for people with disabilities and legislator who often worked independently to further the advancement of public policy on behalf of people with disabilities. In the halls of Congress, he often acted and spoke not only as a U.S. Senator but also as a parent of a child with a disability. He is widely regarded as the original "father" of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1981, Peg Dignoti organized a hearing at the Connecticut State Capitol for Senator Weicker. Leading experts such as Tom Bellamy, Karen Green McGowan, and Bob Carl testified about possibilities. The Senator and his staff led the investigation of state institutions across the country, an investigation that culminated in strengthening the protection and advocacy legislation. Below are articles about the hearings that appeared in a 1981 newsletter of the Connecticut Arc and in a 1985 article in the New York Times.

During his years in the Senate, Senator Weicker introduced and co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation that laid the foundation for the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the 1980s, the Senator became particularly interested in the institutionalization of people with disabilities, as states shielded their state institutions from allegations of abuse.

http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/ pdf/80s/81/ 81-TWH-CARC.pdf
http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/ pdf/80s/85/ 85-SHA-NYT.pdf

Senator Lowell Weicker
Senator Lowell Weicker

Peg Dignoti
Peg Dignoti

Senator Weicker, and John Doyle, the Senator's Staff Director of the Senate's Subcommittee on the Handicapped at the time, reflected on these investigations in this segment of an interview by self-advocate, Thomas McCann, Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities member, and host of the local cable television show "MARC Matters" sponsored by the Manchester (Connecticut) Arc. http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/one/video/weickerDoyle/ weickerDoyle1.html

In April 1988, in the 100th Congress, Senator Weicker introduced S.2345, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988.  United States Representative Anthony Coelho of California introduced H.R.4498, the House version of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988. In this video clip, Representative Coelho shared his personal experience with discrimination:
http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels/ five/5d/coelho.html

Senator Weicker, Representative Coelho, and several other Senators, Representatives and advocates, testified on discrimination based on disabilities during hearings on the Americans with Disabilities Act in September 1988.  This video captured some of that testimony. http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/ one/video14/ada-hearing.html

Senator Weicker's S. 2345 had much stronger language and much broader civil rights policy than the act that was eventually passed into law, however, it was S. 2345 which would become the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Senator Weicker left the Senate before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed. The following video is the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990.
http://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2 /one/video/video74-ada-signing.html

The historical papers of Lowell Weicker can be found at http://dev1.shanti.virginia.edu/lowellweicker/exhibit/disabilities

Parallels In Time: A History of Developmental Disabilities
V. The Reawakening:  1950-1980 - D. Litigation and Legislation

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