Rev. Harold H. Wilke, 1914-2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. February, 26, 2003 – Rev. Harold H. Wilke, a pioneering religious leader, disability advocate, and founding Board Member of the National Organization on Disability (N.O.D.), died yesterday in Claremont, California. He was 88 years old.

A member of the U.S. Council for the Year of Disabled Persons and a Board Member of both N.O.D. and its international arm, the World Committee on Disability, Dr. Wilke was noted for his unique role delivering the blessing at the White House signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990. Following the signing, President George H.W. Bush passed the signing pen to Rev. Wilke, who accepted it with his foot, because he was born without arms.

Rev. Wilke focused on his own abilities, rather than his disability. He had a distinguished career in four areas of service: the Church, rehabilitation medicine, teaching and government. Ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ, Dr. Wilke served on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary in New York and directed The Healing Community, which promotes awareness about access to a life of faith. He published numerous books and articles, including “Creating the Caring Congregation,” for congregations moving to integrate persons with disabilities into the faith community.

“Harold was the inspiration for our Religion and Disability Program,” said Ginny Thornburgh, Director of that program at N.O.D. since 1989. “His enthusiasm, self-acceptance, grit and twinkle allowed him to be a role model and a superb leader. He challenged all, with and without disabilities, to heal the divisions among God’s children. Religious communities responded to his proclamation that people with disabilities are welcome and needed in the House of God.”

The National Organization on Disability, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2002, promotes the full and equal participation and contribution of America’s 54 million men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. For more information about N.O.D.’s Religion and Disability Program, visit