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Special Memorial Blog: Meeting a True Giant, Robert “Bobby” Silverstein

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

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Photo of Bobby Silverstein

There are special moments that continue to reverberate and forever shape our lives. One such moment happened to me years ago when I was working closely with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). I was asked to meet with someone who by all accounts was “important.” I assumed it was just another meet-and-greet conversation about our research on Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs)—which ODEP sponsored for many years. I sensed an unusual amount of tension from my colleagues. I realized that this was a different sort of meeting when we entered the room. The door closed and I was alone with this silver-haired gentleman sitting at a small conference table. And that is how I met Bobby Silverstein. On the table in front of Bobby was all my ILP research laid out neat and orderly. He explained that he needed to understand all of it.

I can be so naïve. And maybe it was better that I did not know that I was sitting down with the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as many more bills enacted into law. Too often we apply the word “giant” to major figures who have made a tremendous impact. Giant seems too small a word to attach to Bobby Silverstein. The ADA has transformed the lives and dignity of people with disabilities not only in the United States but around the world as other countries use it as a model for their own policies. My dear friend Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities, once remarked about how her life and the lives of all “ADA Kids” have been transformed since passage of this monumental legislation.

On July 26, we celebrated the anniversary of the ADA and I am reminded of the incredible impact Bobby made through his contributions. What a privilege and honor to spend an hour with Bobby. Senior ODEP Policy Analyst and dear friend- Rhonda Basha and I had many more conversations with Bobby about our ILP research. It turned out that he was part of a new ODEP initiative called the State Exchange on Employment & Disability (SEED). In collaboration with the Council of State Governments and National Conference of State Legislatures, Bobby was preparing policy language recommendations for the Work Matters report that would encourage states to adopt ILP policies that improve the transition into the world of work for people with disabilities. Ten states adopted their recommendations.

I’d like to thank my colleagues Katia Albanese and Rachel McGreevy at SEED for sharing the news of Bobby’s passing. In her message to me last November, Katia said his family requested that we keep Bobby in our thoughts and prayers and “give someone a hug. He’d like that.”

To help us all keep Bobby in our thoughts and prayers, I found a podcast and webinar where he reflects on his legacy. Both the Family Café Disability Advocacy Hour podcast and the Employer Assistance and Resource on Disability Inclusion (EARN) webinar features Bobby talking about his experiences in getting the ADA legislation passed.

Hearing his voice beacons me back to other moments I had with Bobby. His generosity to share his thoughts about advocacy with our CCD Center’s State Leaders Career Development Network Convening was amazing as were the chats we had presenting together at the SEED and National Governors Association meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. I cherished every one of these moments and remain forever transformed by his wisdom and passion. Thank you, Bobby, for making the world a better place for all of us.

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