Tony Coelho: A Political Life
Voiceover: For years, as a Congressman, Tony worked on a bill that would give disabled people some rights protection. It was controversial because it required extra effort on the part of businesses and cost money. Piece by piece, Tony gathered bi-partisan support for the bill. At one point, he testified in a Joint House Senate hearing about his epilepsy. It was rare at that time to have a politician be so forthcoming about a disability.
Tony Coelho: Thirty-six million Americans, deciding it's time for us to stand up for ourselves to make a difference. To say that we want our basic civil rights also. We deserve it. And give us an opportunity to do what we can do. Don't keep telling us what we can't do. I thank my colleagues.
Voiceover: From outside the House, Tony continued to fight for the bill. When it looked to be getting the runaround by Republicans in the House, he pushed every button he could reach.
Frank Luntz: There's only one time he ever called me for legislation, and he called me because he said, "Tom DeLay is thinking about undermining the ADA Act, the Disabilities Act. I want to work with Tom on it. I want to explain to him why it matters so much. Tom and I may disagree on everything. We should be allies on this. Please talk to him. I don't want to go to war. This is the only thing I'll go to war on." Because he believes it so deeply.
Voiceover: President Bush's Chief of Staff, John Sununu, was also against the bill.
Tony Coelho: They wanted it to die. And so I called him and I said, "This is going on," and I said, "Look it," and I gave him the reasons why it should move forward. And he said, "Look it, I'm opposed." And I said, "Look it, I'm going to call the President because he gave me a commitment." He said, "I know you will, and he'll tell me I have to move it, and I will move it, but you're going to have to make the call." So I said, "Okay, I will." So I called the President and I said, "You know, it's bogged down." And he said, "No problem. I'll get it done." Done.
Voiceover: It was an historic moment when President George H. Bush signed the bill into law on July 26, 1990.
President George H. Bush: And remember, this is a tremendous pool of people who will bring the jobs diversity, loyalty, proven low turnover rate, and only one request – the chance to prove themselves.
Tony Coelho: Before 1990, people could discriminate against me openly, legally. Now they can't. But I think the ADA is about becoming an American. We're part of the dream. It's unlimited the possibilities. It's only based on what we are willing to do.