As chairperson of the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC) and a member of the Board of Directors of Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL), I am particularly saddened to hear of the passing today, Aug. 18, of former U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords.
Jim was as much a friend of people with disabilities as anyone holding public office. His work on behalf of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was incomparable. Jim was by no means flamboyant or bombastic, but, rather and preferably, was genuine and sincere. He strongly believed that efforts toward equity, respect and inclusion for people with disabilities was the right thing to do and transcended partisan and other divides.
Indeed I can remember attending a luncheon in Burlington several years ago at which Jim accepted an award on behalf of his work for people with disabilities. As he accepted the award and watched the thundering applause, his eyes swelled with genuine emotion as he realized the appreciation he so deserved. Is this not what public service is or should be all about? I also remember a story he was fond of relating: Upon being questioned by other members of Congress regarding a clause he advocated for in the ADA and its cost implications, he shrugged and replied, "So?" In other words, he felt that requiring governmental facilities to be accessible was necessary and correct and would pay for itself in the long run in terms of a greater degree of participation in our great democratic institutions.
Jim was a moderate in philosophy and behavior, but was a champion of human and civil rights and of democracy in its most poignant sense.
We will miss him greatly, but I am hoping his legacy will be retained for as long as people are struggling for equality and fairness. He was truly a champion of what is right.