A key author of the Americans with Disabilities Act announced January 26 that he will not seek a sixth term in the Senate.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), whose term ends in 2014, introduced the ADA in the Senate on May 9, 1989. A long-time-passionate advocate for people with disabilities, Harkin later introduced the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, a Congressional response to a range of Supreme Court decisions that weakened the scope and effectiveness of the ADA.
“During his tenure, he has fought passionately to improve quality of life for Americans with disabilities and their families, to reform our education system and ensure that every American has access to affordable health care,” President Obama said in a news release. “Senator Harkin will be missed, and Michelle and I join Iowans in thanking him for his long-standing service and wish him and his wife, Ruth, all the best in the future.”
Harkin, 73, was first elected to the U.S House of Representatives in 1974, before joining the Senate in 1984. A Democratic presidential candidate in 1992, Harkin became known as a fierce advocate of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, and later the Affordable Care Act.
In recent years, Harkin’s efforts have focused on improving employment prospects for people with disabilities, increasing special education funding, ending restraint and seclusion practices in schools, and pushing about against proposed Medicaid cuts while working to reduce the program’s institutional bias.
“At its heart, the ADA is simple. In the words of one activist, this landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: ‘the right to live in the world. It ensures they can go places and do things that other Americans take for granted,'” Harkin wrote in a 2010 column recognizing the ADA’s 20th anniversary. “Despite the great progress, our work is far from complete. For example, millions of people with disabilities – including young people — are housed in institutional settings like nursing homes.
“With appropriate community-based services and supports, they can have the option of living with family and friends — not strangers. The new health reform law makes some progress on this, but we need to do even more. When he signed the ADA into law, (President George H.W.) Bush spoke with great eloquence: ‘Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.’ Twenty years later, that wall is indeed falling.”