“We will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.”
These 15 words spoken were by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, on the White House South Lawn before signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the most sweeping affirmation of rights for the disabled in history.
In October, UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry and the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (AADMD) honored the late president for his transformative and positive impact on the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities with the George H.W. Bush Presidential Impact Award.
The recognition took place Oct. 2 in the Denton A. Cooley, MD and Ralph C. Cooley, DDS University Life Center, the same location where President Bush was to be presented the award initially on June 3, 2017.
Due to ill health, a personal friend of President Bush, Charles Hoopingarner, DDS ’73, also his dentist, accepted the honor on his behalf. The award was later returned to the School of Dentistry, allowing the opportunity to present it, again, in 2023.
Among a crowd of distinguished guests, Neil Bush, son of President Bush, accepted the award on his family’s behalf.
“It’s never too late to recognize the achievement of a great man,” Neil Bush said. “My father’s four years as president were marked with amazing accomplishments.
“The one legacy that still stands and will forever stand is his role in signing the ADA. The ramps and all the conditions that have been laid in place as a result of this landmark legislation won’t go away.”
In addition to signing the ADA into law, President Bush was selected for the award because he and his late wife, Barbara Bush, were parents of a daughter, Robin, with complex health needs and comorbidities who passed away at the young age of 3.
Fueled by the personal experience, President Bush, then the vice president, was the catalyst to have President Ronald Reagan sign an executive order in 1982 to allow a young girl from Iowa named Katie Beckett to go home. This became known as the Katie Beckett waiver and was the foundation of the ability for all persons with disabilities to receive home- and community-based services.
Lex Frieden, MA, LLD (hon), professor of clinical and health informatics with McWilliams School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth Houston, delivered the keynote address, where he applauded President Bush’s advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and recognized the important work he and others did, even behind the scenes, to make the U.S. more inclusive for generations to come.
Frieden too had a role to play. Called a chief architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he is also regarded as a founder and leader of the independent living movement by people with disabilities in the U.S.
“There’s a lot of people that are family members of people with disability; we’re all impacted,” said David F. Fray, DDS ’79, School of Dentistry faculty member and past president of the AADMD. “I think it made a big difference in all of our lives that somebody like President Bush and Lex Frieden said things the way they are don’t have to stay that way, we can change, and the work is not done. We can still change things.”
For his many contributions to the field of disability policy and independent living, Frieden was recognized for his inclusive advocacy work with the George H.W. Bush Presidential Freedom Award, formerly known as the George H.W. Bush Presidential Impact Award, at the end of his keynote address.
Frieden, in his remarks, said he’s glad anytime he can be “associated with 41.”
Neil Bush also took time to recognize Frieden. “You have been tireless in this effort. While dad gets a lot of credit, you and all those people you referenced in your speech are the real heroes, so it’s very befitting that an award named after dad would be given to you.”