SAN DIEGO -- On eve of his nomination for president, Bob Dole returned yesterday to one of the earliest causes of his political career: fighting for the rights of the disabled.
He watched a demonstration of dogs trained to help quadriplegics and paraplegics get around on their own. He also said he would not allow a weakening of the sweeping law requiring access for the disabled and used his own experience to demonstrate how far the disabled can rise if given the chance.
"I've always had the view that there is a lot of potential possessed by people with disabilities of all kinds," he told a gathering of disabled citizens at Balboa Park. "We were in effect locking that up in America -- not giving people with disabilities the full opportunity they could have and they deserve.
Dole, who lost the use of his right hand and arm as a result of World War II combat injuries, has been holding campaign events with the disabled more often than he used to.
Such events provide an opportunity for Dole to highlight his own moving story of courage and determination in overcoming his handicap.
They also remind voters of his leadership role in enacting the 6-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandated that all public and commercial buildings must make their facilities wheelchair accessible and offer other amenities for the disabled.
Two events with the disabled and a visit to the New York delegation were the only activities yesterday on Dole's schedule, before he retired to his hotel for an afternoon in the sun working on his tan and reviewing his acceptance speech.
The former Senate majority leader seemed a little uncomfortable about seeming to make political hay out of what for him has been an intensely personal issue. The first speech he offered as congressman in 1963 dealt with the disabled.
"I hope I can stand up here without people saying, 'There's a politician up there exploiting the disabled,' " he said. "I've never done that, that's not my bag."
In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act is not universally popular because it imposes costly mandates on governments and business. Some people in his audience told Dole they feared congressional Republicans would try to reduce the scope of the law.
"It's not going to be weakened," Dole promised.
He was asked to defend such "a mandate," since the Republican-led Congress passed a law saying it will no longer impose costly requirements on businesses and government without also providing the money to pay for them.
"There are times when the public interest may dictate that you need a mandate," he said. "Some cities complain from time to time about cost. In my view, it's an investment, an investment in people in this community and other communities and the investment will pay off."
Dole was asked to make sure this message got through to his own convention planners.
Bonnie A. Hough, a disabled physician who was supposed to sing with a gospel choir at the GOP convention tonight, told Dole she was dropped from the program Monday because the Republican National Committee bus assigned to the choir is not equipped to accommodate a wheelchair.
Dole promised her he would have someone resolve the problem. But later she was told that there was no way to get her on to the convention stage without rebuilding it.
"I'm so broken-hearted and disappointed," she said.
Many of the nearly 100 disabled people said they were Democrats, or at least disenchanted with the Republicans.
But Dole spent a half-hour or more listening to their complaints, taking cards and names, acting like a senator at a town meeting.
Pub Date: 8/14/96