It often bewilders me how influential President Nixon’s domestic policies remain to this day. It is truly remarkable that we live in an America that President Nixon envisioned, then helped to shape and create, to a large degree – especially considering that he has been out of office for 39 years.
With that in mind, consider the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, signed 40 years ago today.
RN’s signature on the Rehabilitation Act contributed mightily to creating his more just society.
The Rehabilitation Act was the first major attempt by the government to secure a more equal playing field for Americans with disabilities. This landmark civil rights measure not only required an elimination of physical barriers that impeded disabled Americans, but sought to prevent any sort of discrimination toward them as well.
Though the law only pertained to federally-financed vocational rehabilitation services, it served as an important precursor to the more widely-encompassing – and more recognizable – Americans with Disabilities Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
Such commonplace norms as handicapped ramps up sidewalks, elevator lifts for those in wheelchairs, etc. were the goals of this law. And those goals have an important place in our society today.
I’ll give you an example: just a few weeks ago as the school year began again, each of my undergraduate classes at Chapman University began by pouring over the class syllabus. Each professor, without fail, took special care to note the Americans with Disabilities Act options that the school offers. I was not surprised to learn that assisting Americans with disabilities began with Richard Nixon.
Of interesting note, incidentally, Mrs. Nixon embarked on a similar effort of her own in 1971, when she installed handicapped ramps in the White House and began special White House tours for the blind. These simple acts no doubt contributed to President Nixon’s overarching domestic goal of creating a More Just Society for all.