Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (8 March 1973) Washington, D.C.
The first time John Brademas ran for Congress, he lost. When he tried the second time, he lost again. It was not until his third bid in 1958 that he was elected as a Democrat representing the Third Congressional District of Indiana.1 In the House of Representatives, Brademas earned a reputation for being “one of the key men in Washington” on education policy; he also worked to expand access for arts education and disability rights. Many students still benefit from his work today through their right to a 504 Plan that gives them necessary disability accommodations.2
Born in Mishawaka, Indiana in 1927, Brademas was often at the top of his class. In 1945, he graduated from South Bend Central High School as valedictorian before joining the U.S. Navy.3 Brademas graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude in 1949, and he earned his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 1954. From there, he worked in multiple congressional offices as he attempted to gain a seat in the House of Representatives. After entering the House in 1959, he went on to serve as the House Majority Whip (1977-1981) before losing his congressional seat to John Hiler (R-IN) during the 1980 election.4
Many peers saw Brademas as driven more by principles than party politics during his years in Congress. As the following remembrances show, Brademas credited his views about politics to his Greek heritage and his father’s political advice: “I recall my Greek born father telling me when I was a child, ‘We Greeks invented democracy; some of us should practice it.’”5 He brought this mindset to the three committees he served on while in Congress: the Committee on House Administration; the House Committee on Education and Labor; and the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress.6 During his time in Congress, he sponsored or co-sponsored a long list of bills, including the Elementary and Secondary Education Acts of 1965 and 1967 and the Arts and Humanities Act of 1973. He also helped advance legislation that expanded arts education, care for the elderly, and funding for public spaces such as libraries and museums.
Brademas, however, is arguably best known for his congressional leadership on disability rights.7 In 1920, the Civilian Rehabilitation Act, which was modeled after the Soldiers Rehabilitation Act, was the first to establish a rehabilitation program in the country. The passage of the Social Security Act in 1935 also aimed to provide disability assistance. However, no large-scale changes were passed until the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, which was signed into law after being vetoed twice by President Richard Nixon (R-CA).8 Nixon worried the bill could “lead to unintended consequences both for government and people with disabilities [the bill] was intended to assist.”9
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law on September 26, 1973. It represented “the first legislation to address the notion of equal access for individuals with disabilities through the removal of architectural, employment, and transportation barriers.”10 Brademas used the accompanying speech to present his reasoning for supporting H.R. 17 – an early version of the 1973 Act. The primary goal of H.R. 17 was to establish an Office for the Handicapped and a Rehabilitation Services Commission within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Its programs include counseling and vocational services, visually-impaired and hearing-impaired services, and transportation for participants.
Brademas’ work in the Rehabilitation Act is still prominent today. Even though it took him several attempts to pass the legislation, 504 Plans are now common practice in primary and secondary schools. Aside from helping students, the law assists many others. Section 501, for example, “bars employment discrimination in the federal government.” Section 508, which is arguably even more important today than it was when the bill was written, outlines the use of technology and other communication methods.11 For instance, today, this requirement provides access to computers during exams where the Internet is not otherwise allowed. The Rehabilitation Act served as inspiration for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the next major disability rights law. The Rehabilitation Act itself was most recently amended in 1992, “aimed at empowering people with disabilities.”12
After his career in Congress, Brademas served as the 13th president of New York University from 1981 to 1992.13 In addition to his academic achievements, Brademas was named Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 1994 by President Bill Clinton. Brademas was also appointed chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, along with many other board positions later in life.14 Today, the John Brademas Center of New York University runs programs related to promoting public service and facilitating public policy research to encourage democratic participation.15 In 2016, NYU announced Brademas’s death on July 11. He was 89 years old.16
- Geoff Paddock, “John Brademas,” Indiana Political Heroes (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014), 23-44.
- Arnold B. Sawislak, “John Brademas: Education’s White Knight on Capitol Hill,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 7, no. 7 (1975): 32-37.
- Kevin Allen, “Former Indiana Congressman John Brademas Dies,” South Bend Tribune, July 12, 2016, https://www.southbendtribune.com/story/news/politics/2016/07/12/former-indiana-congressman-john-brademas-dies/46223209/.
- “BRADEMAS, John,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, https://bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/B000736; “HILER, John Patrick,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, https://bioguide.congress.gov/search/bio/H000586.
- “Two Stevenson Aides,” The New Republic, September 29, 1958, 17-18.
- “About John Brademas,” New York University, https://www.nyu.edu/community/government-affairs/study-of-congress/about-john-brademas.html.
- Paddock, “John Brademas,” 26-27.
- Richard Nixon, “Veto of the Vocational Rehabilitation Bill,” The American Presidency Project, March 27, 1973, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/veto-the-vocational-rehabilitation-bill.
- Bob Williams, “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Independence Bound,” Administration for Community Living, September 26, 2016, https://acl.gov/news-and-events/acl-blog/rehabilitation-act-1973-independence-bound.
- Richard Nixon, “Statement on Signing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,” The American Presidency Project, September 26, 1973, https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/statement-signing-the-rehabilitation-act-1973.
- “A Brief History of Legislation,” Disability Center, Colorado State University, https://disabilitycenter.colostate.edu/disability-awareness/disability-history/.
- “H.R.5482 – Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992,” Congress.gov, https://www.congress.gov/bill/102nd-congress/house-bill/5482#:~:text=Rehabilitation%20Act%20Amendments%20of%201992%20%2D%20Amends%20the%20Rehabilitation%20Act%20of,and%20policy%20under%20the%20Act.
- “About John Brademas.”
- Paddock, “John Brademas,” 43.
- “About John Brademas.”
- “The Death of John Brademas, NYU’s President from 1981 to 1992,” New York University, July 11, 2016, https://www.nyu.edu/about/leadership-university-administration/board-of-trustees/communications/the-death-of-john-brademas-nyus-president-from-1981-to-1992.html.