With the expected passage of The Americans with Disabilities Act, Rud Turnbull will see the fruit of a year of labor.
Turnbull, KU professor of special education and law, has kept close watch on the bill since helping Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the bill sponsor, prepare it.
Co-director of KU's Beach Center on Families and Disability and an advocate of integrating handicapped people into their communities, Turnbull spent 1987-88 in Washington, D.C., as a Kennedy Foundation Public Policy Fellow and he helped prepare the bill and lay the foundation for its introduction.
"I assisted in some of the basic research and in meeting with the various constituencies, in and outside the disability field," Turnbull said. "My particular focus was employment discrimination and discrimination in public accommodations such as restaurants, public transportation and in the food industry."
AMERICANS protected by the act would be those with mental and physical disabilities, such as hearing, sight and mobility impairment; mental retardation; and mental illness, Turnbull said.
The bill specifically prohibits discrimination solely because of a disability for example, not hiring a potential employee because he or she uses a wheelchair.
The bill also calls for "reasonable accommodations" for those with disabilities, such as an interpreter at public meetings for hearing impaired members of the audience. An exception is made if the accommodation imposes an undue burden, Turnbull said.
That has been a major sticking point, he said, citing efforts in the House of Representatives to exempt small businesses, delay deadlines for public transportation to adapt to new regulations and reduce requirements that new buildings be handicapped accessible.
HE CONSIDERS the bill a logical, overdue extension of the civil rights movement that began in the 1960s.
According to Turnbull, the law would benefit all Americans, not just those with disabilities. It would give the 43 million Americans who are disabled opportunities to be self-supporting, making them taxpayers, not tax users, he said.
Turnbull said Harkin's dedication has helped push the bill through the system. Harkin, who is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy, started working on the bill more than two years ago.
"It flew through the Senate," Turnbull said. "It was out and passed within four months. That was possible only because he really worked the political system and because the bill itself is long overdue."
Turnbull said he especially enjoyed being involved in the legislative process. His work on the bill allowed him to learn the behind-the-scenes process.
"IN WASHINGTON, you learn access is the name of the game," he said.
Secondly, he was able to form his own network by making friends with staff members of various committees on disability issues, which should be beneficial in further research.
"It's great to have that kind of access and seeing the process work at its very best," Turnbull said.