June 28, 2023
Today, Connecticut and the nation lost a giant in the Disability Rights movement. It would be an understatement that Lowell Weicker, as a United States Senator, had spearheaded the establishment of the right to an appropriate special education with the enactment of the Education of all Handicapped Children Act (now the IDEA), which expanded the civil rights of individual with disabilities with the Handicapped Persons Civil Rights Act of 1986, which expanded housing opportunities with the enactment of the Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988, and provided access to places of public accommodations and government services by laying the groundwork by convening a series of public hearings that eventually led to the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act after he left the Senate. There were many other federal laws that carried Senator Weicker’s signature to expand the rights of persons with disabilities, while simultaneously reducing the institutionalization of individuals with disabilities such as the Protection and Advocacy of Persons with Mental Illness Act and the Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights Act.
As an attorney with the State Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, I had the opportunity to meet with Senator Weicker and his staff to discuss proposed legislation such as explaining the limits of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the need to expand the rights in that federal law that eventually became the Americans with Disabilities Act. Often Senator Weicker would arrive unannounced at the State Office of Protection and Advocacy. He frequently met with Eliot Dober, our Executive Director at the time and the agency’s staff to learn about the disability rights advocacy movement on the ground level, and how it could be improved upon with the enactment of federal legislation. Many in Congress took up the cause after Senator Weicker lost his seat in the 1988 election; but there was no one who had his passion, tenacity, and a force of personality, to get the job done and ensure the civil rights of individuals with disabilities would be protected, opportunities would be expanded, and discrimination would be eliminated.
The legacy of Senator Weicker will live on through his legislative achievements and the lasting impact that he had on the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of adults and children with disabilities who have benefited from federal legislation that ensured the expansion of educational, employment, housing and other opportunities would ensure that people with disabilities would have opportunities to become equal members of our society and would no longer be shunted aside or institutionalized.