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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, listens to Rep. John Nygren speak at a press conference on Dec. 4, 2018.

The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was an epic moment in the struggle for equal rights for all Americans. Approved with bipartisan support, the ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, who declared: “Our success with this act proves that we are keeping faith with the spirit of our courageous forefathers who wrote in the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.’ These words have been our guide for more than two centuries as we've labored to form our more perfect union. But tragically, for too many Americans, the blessings of liberty have been limited or even denied.”

“The Civil Rights Act of '64 took a bold step towards righting that wrong,” explained Bush. “But the stark fact remained that people with disabilities were still victims of segregation and discrimination, and this was intolerable. Today's legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The vision of the ADA was brilliant and necessary three decades ago, and it remains so today. At the heart of it is respect for Americans who are prepared to contribute mightily to the economic and civic life of this country. That’s precisely what state Rep. Jimmy Anderson, D-Fitchburg, has done.

Paralyzed from the chest down since 2010 — after a drunken driver smashed into the vehicle he was in, killing Anderson's parents and brother — he has rebuilt his life, graduated from law school, started a nonprofit group that helps victims of drunken driving and been elected to the Legislature. It is still hard at times, and Anderson has sought modest shifts in legislative practices so that he can call in to Assembly committee meetings that are difficult for him to attend. (The state Senate already allows members to call in.)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, had a horrible initial response to Anderson’s request. Vos accused his colleague of “political grandstanding.” But Anderson has persisted, and now, the Speaker says, “I’m sure at the end of the day we are going to make accommodations.” Yet, Vos keeps claiming that Anderson’s request is “all about making the Republicans look bad.”

That’s a shocking statement. What has made the struggle to advance disability rights so hopeful and refreshing, has been the bipartisan understanding that people of all backgrounds, all experiences and all ideologies must be afforded access. Now, Vos says of Anderson and others who have been pressing the issue, “Everything that they do is political and it’s based on trying to make the other side look bad.”

That’s false. Anderson has tried to work with Vos on an issue that should unite Republicans and Democrats in Wisconsin — just as both parties united in 1990 to establish the ADA.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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