Chapter 33. Senators
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535 33 Senators The two US Senators who stayed with the ADA from beginning to end, and who have been identified more than any others with its passage and its influence in American life, are Thomas Harkin of Iowa and the late Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts. Like the original sponsors, Lowell Weicker in the Senate and Tony Coelho in the House, both had direct and intimate involvement with disability. Senator Thomas Harkin “There were times when I had my own doubts that this could ever, ever get through.” Thomas Richard Harkin was born in November 1939, in Cummings, Iowa. His father was a coal miner; his mother died when he was ten years old. Harkin graduated from Iowa State University in 1962 and enlisted in the navy, serving until 1967. He was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1974, reelected four times, and then elected to the Senate in 1984, where he continues, as of this writing, to be a leading figure in the Democratic Party. I first recognized the need to make changes in law to address aspects of disability when I was in the House of Representatives. See, I grew up with my brother, who is deaf, and when I got into the House, I formed a working relationship with then Senator Jennings Randolph from West Virginia. . . . Just about the time I got here, I found out that they were working on providing that line at the bottom of the television screens [closed captioning for people who are deaf and hard of hearing], and 536 chapter 33 that they were making a decoding implement to go on a television set. So I worked with Jennings Randolph to get Sears Roebuck to make this decoding device, a great big box, and to sell it for cost. If I remember right, it was $179. We delivered the first one to then President Jimmy Carter in the White House, if I am not mistaken, in the year 1978. I think my brother got the fifth one ever made. I began to see just what laws could do to impact people with disabilities and how they live. Of course, during my time in the House, I was also involved in debates on Public Law 94-142, [the] Education for all Handicapped Children Act, [and] also what would later become called the Rehab Act. Even though I wasn’t on the Education Committee, I was greatly concerned about those. Then there was a couple of years there where I didn’t do anything [related to disability, until] I got to the Senate and discovered, after I had been here about a year, that there was a move afoot to enact the sweeping comprehensive disability law. At about that time, in January of 1987, the Democrats had taken the Senate back [and] I was asked by Senator Kennedy to go on his committee [on Labor and Human Resources]. I told him that I would if I could get the chairmanship of the Disability Policy Subcommittee. He said, “Sure.” That is when I first really began to see that disability rights legislation ought to be more than piecemeal. I had always thought of it before as, you do this for the deaf; you do this for the blind; you do this for people with other physical disabilities; you do this for people with mental disabilities . I had not thought of an overarching comprehensive civil rights bill until that time. . . . Probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks to our getting ADA through was a guy by the name of John Sununu. I remember one time I was down in the White House on a social occasion, visiting with President Bush. I just happened to get on the elevator with [the president] and I said, “You are backing the Americans with Disabilities Act, the bill that we have in the Senate. We are having some real problems and, quite frankly, your chief of staff, Mr. Sununu, is not being very helpful on this and we need some help on it.” He immediately got Boyden Gray, and Boyden Gray . . . came in and weighed in very heavily on it, and was sort of [the president’s] representative on it from then on. That was a turning point, because we [then] had someone to deal with other than Mr. Sununu. . . . I think another big turning point was when Bob Dole called all of us senators 537 together in a classic historical meeting in a room upstairs in...



Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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