Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Attorney General Jack Conway knows an opportunity when he sees one.

At least he did Monday, when he told about 100 gathered in the capitol rotunda celebrating the 20th anniversary of passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act that his opponent Rand Paul’s statements on the law were “a shame” and “ignorant.”

Conway also criticized former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose father President George H. Bush signed the ADA into law, for helping Paul raise money.

Conway said 50 million Americans have benefited from the protections of the ADA since it was signed into law by the first President Bush on July 26, 1990, calling it the “Bill or Rights, the Brown vs. Board of Education for the disability community.”

Conway condemned Paul’s previous statements that such problems of access and discrimination are more effectively handled locally. Paul — a Bowling Green eye surgeon and libertarian-leaning Republican — has campaigned against what he sees as intrusive government policies, runaway federal spending and debt. The day after his May 18 primary win over Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson, Paul suggested to CNHI News that businesses with offices in two-story buildings might accommodate handicapped employees with a ground floor office rather than having to “spend $100,000 to put in an elevator.” Paul did not call for repeal of the law.

Conway told the crowd Monday that, “I will always support the Americans with Disabilities Act,” both as AG and “hopefully as your next United States Senator.

“But what a shame it is,” Conway continued, “that 20 years after the passage of the American with Disabilities Act, we would have a major candidate stand up and say he is against the American Disabilities Act, stand up and say if you have someone with a business in two stories, let someone with a disability take an office on the first floor, that is ignorant.”

He then turned toward Jeb Bush, who was scheduled to attend a Paul fundraising event in Louisville this week. “What a shame it is here today that a national politician is coming and appearing with that particular candidate and tarnishing the family legacy.” He referred to Jeb Bush, son of the first President Bush who signed the ADA into law and the brother of President George W. Bush who signed amendments to the act designed to strengthen it.

Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, called Conway’s statements irresponsible and a “cheap political stunt.”

“Dr. Paul has spent his entire adult life as a doctor,” Benton said. “He spends much of his time treating the blind, restoring eyesight and treating victims of many types of disabilities. He is deeply attuned to needs and struggles of the disabled, and to imply otherwise is a cheap political stunt by his opponent. It is sad that a desperate Jack Conway would make such irresponsible charges and politicize a non-political event to further his own ambitions.”

Pamela Roark-Glisson, executive director of Independence Place, Inc., a Lexington agency which helps disabled people to live independently, said both Conway and Paul were invited to address the rally.

“He (Paul) was invited by five different people — I was one of them,” she said. “He was invited by letter and we made phone calls and got no response.”

At least one person in the crowd, Ella Mullins of Ashland, agreed with much of what Conway said about the benefits of the ADA, but probably will vote for Paul anyway. Mullins, who uses a wheelchair for all but very short distances because of double-knee replacements, is a registered Republican.

“I don’t know for sure, but I will probably vote for Paul,” she said.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/  cnhifrankfort.

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