Richard “Dick” Thornburgh, former Pennsylvania Governor and United States Attorney General under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, passed away on December 31st outside Pittsburgh. NACDD mourns the passing of a key figure who was instrumental in passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act.
Dick Thornburgh fought for full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life. The father of a son with an intellectual disability, Mr. Thornburgh combined his personal and political agendas to champion the Bush Administration’s effort to enact the ADA which barred discrimination against people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities. Shortly after the ADA was signed into law, Mr. Thornburgh called it “the next great leap forward in the civil rights movement.”
For the rest of his life, whether in public office or private practice, he continued to fight for full implementation of the promise of the ADA and defend against current threats to weaken its intent. In 2008, he led the effort to enact ADA Amendments Act which counteracted the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of disability and provided broad protection from discrimination. Most recently, he rallied to help defeat the ADA Education and Reform Act, which would have imposed new burdens on people with disabilities before they can file a civil action for an accessibility violation in a public accommodation case. Mr. Thornburgh’s compassion, lived experience as a parent, and legislative genius, persuaded members from both sides of the aisle to achieve these important legislative victories for people with disabilities.