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I remember when I met the president …

On July 18, 1994, I attended a baseball game at then Jacobs Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Considered one of the most handicapped accessible at the time, the newly constructed stadium had opened three months earlier and just shy of four years after the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. I had traveled to Ohio with my stepfather and was eager to experience the wheelchair friendly ballpark.

Seated along the third base line, we enjoyed a spectacular, unobstructed view of the field and Cleveland’s rejuvenated, urban landscape. As we watched the Indians and Texas Rangers play, a rumble rolled through the crowd. Fans stood. Heads turned. Fingers pointed. Former President George Herbert Walker Bush was in the stands.

Upon hearing the news, I politely abandoned my stepfather and set out on an impossible mission, pushing my wheelchair in the direction where I thought the man might be located. Above the area around home plate I spotted several Secret Service agents. They monitored an aisle and canvassed the crowd with vigilant eyes. I found a safe place nearby, against a cement wall leading to an exit ramp. I settled in and patiently waited.

 

Too much time passed and I had not budged. An agent approached. He asked a series of questions. It was small talk and he was doing his job. I told him I hoped to get a glimpse of the former president when he left. Satisfied, he wandered away but remained in the vicinity.

A short while later, the area buzzed with activity. Radios squawked while agents and police scrambled to create a secure path for the former president to exit through. I prepared to move. The agent I had spoken with, however, held up a hand, an indication for me to stay put.

The crowd began to chant: “Four more years, four more years, four more years…” The chant intensified, grew louder and louder. He was getting close.  Suddenly the former president’s tall, statuesque frame appeared before me. He acknowledged his supporters with a jubilant, appreciative wave. Then he bent down and, in a grandfatherly way, folded my crumpled hands into his own and held them.

“Thank you for your long service and for signing the ADA into law,” I said loudly, afraid the crowd noise might drown out the words.

He smiled and nodded before agents whisked him down the ramp.

I had gone a long way to see a game, missed the majority of it, and I did not care. Instead, I felt beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to thank a leader I admired, respected and appreciated, a man who made a difference and improved the quality of my life as well as others with disabilities.

 

Stephen Waite of Millerton is a paralyzed veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He is the former deputy mayor of the village of Millerton.