On December 5, Senator Robert Joseph Dole passed away in his sleep at the age of 98. He served the United States loyally for 79 years, including serving in World War II where he sustained life-altering injuries while overseas. The aftermath of his injuries shaped his life’s mission and legacy.
While stationed in Italy in 1945, he was struck by enemy fire and lost all feeling in his right arm and hand, which was two inches shorter after surgeries, and part of his left hand. The injuries altered the course of his life, and he used his newfound insight to work on behalf of all Americans living with disabilities.
Senator Dole was part of the founding of the modern disability movement. He was key in pushing forward the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination, and considered it one of his proudest achievements. He created the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the Dole Foundation for Employment of People with Disabilities.
NOSSCR’s Executive Director Barbara Silverstone remembers, “Senator Bob Dole devoted much of his political career to fighting for people with disabilities. He recognized the need for comprehensive Social Security legislation and the ability for attorneys to be paid for their work representing claimants, supporting the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, the reauthorization of the Equal Access to Justice Act, and the Senate version of the Senior Citizens Right to Work Act of 1995 that left in place SSA’s role in attorney fee processing. In addition to his well-known work on the Americans with Disabilities Act, he supported the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986, and the 1970 Developmental Disabilities Act.”
Further, Senator Dole helped keep Social Security financially secure for our country’s older citizens; he co-led the bipartisan Commission on Social Security Reform in the early 1980s to address the projection that the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund could run dry as early as 1983. The Commission made recommendations to Congress that formed the basis of the 1983 Social Security Amendments.
President Joe Biden, who was a dear friend across the political aisle, said upon his passing that Senator Dole possessed an “unerring sense of integrity and honor.” He continuously fought for his values and the basic dignity of human life. His work extended beyond the arenas that touched upon his own life experience and exemplified his love and compassion for all people. He was part of the bipartisan effort to create the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides school meals in low-income countries as well as nutrition programs for pregnant and nursing women, babies, and toddlers. He also pushed forward the creation of a federal holiday in the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. when many in his own party were opposed.
Senator Dole was a national treasure who worked with honor and integrity on behalf of the inherent dignity of all human beings. He did this work across party lines and without hubris. He is a hero who will be sorely missed.