Who is he?
Duane French was a happy-go-lucky Nebraska
teenager in 1968. Then he dove into a
shallow river and emerged a quadriplegic. On
that day, French became a member of the
world’s largest minority: an estimated one
billion people who now live with disabilities.
Sometimes he just wanted to die. His loving
family and inspirational teachers rescued him
French graduated from college and became
a charismatic counselor. In the 1990s he
directed a major vocational rehabilitation
program in Anchorage. He volunteered on the
front lines of the battle to pass the Americans
with Disabilities Act. Twice forcefully removed
from the halls of Congress, French spent a
night in jail. It was well worth it. French was
at the White House on July 26, 1990, when
President George H.W. Bush signed the
landmark bill into law.
With the actor Christopher Reeve, French
became an inaugural inductee in the Spinal
Cord Injury Hall of Fame in 2005, recognizing
his work to improve the quality of life
for people with disabilities. French is now
the director of disability services for the
Washington State Department of Social &
Health Services. He oversees a $53 million
budget and more than 300 people.