Deidre Davis Butler, Who Fought for Disability Rights, Dies at 64

A wheelchair user herself, she helped draft a landmark law and held government posts championing people with disabilities, especially those of color.

When she was a girl growing up in New Jersey, Deidre Davis Butler made an unlikely sight on the tennis court. A spinal tumor had impaired her mobility — later in life she would be in a wheelchair — but her father had taught her how to play the net, in her own particular way.

“I couldn’t walk well, so I used the tennis racket as a cane,” she told Exceptional Parent magazine in 1998, “and I’d hit the ball, fall down, get up again, and do the same thing.”

That sort of determination carried her through law school and into an impressive career shaping laws and policies that affect people with disabilities, both in government and in the private sector.

She was an important figure during the development of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which she helped draft, and in the years immediately after its passage, when attention turned to carrying out its guarantees.

Beginning in the mid-1990s Ms. Davis Butler was a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department representing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a job that had her traveling the globe making sure that American embassies and other government entities were meeting civil rights and disability rights guidelines.

“She was a conqueror,” the Rev. Edward A. Hailes Jr., who is also a civil rights lawyer and had been her friend since law school, said. “She conquered fears and burdens, not only for herself, but around the world. She eliminated barriers to people with disabilities.”


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