Harkin on ADA Anniversary
Today, in ceremonies and speeches across the nation, people will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will be saluted as one of the great civil-rights laws of the 20th century - a long-overdue emancipation proclamation for people with disabilities.
But as chief sponsor of the law, I never lose sight of the seemingly mundane changes it has made possible. I remember, during the long campaign to pass ADA, explaining to a young woman in a wheelchair how the law would open new opportunities in education and employment. She said, "Senator, I know that's important. But I just want the freedom to go out and buy a pair of shoes, just like anybody else."
How soon we forget that before ADA, Americans with disabilities routinely faced prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion - not to mention an obstacle course of physical barriers to movement in their everyday lives. My late brother Frank, who was deaf, was sent far from home to a "school for the deaf and dumb" (yes, people routinely used this offensive term - and worse), and later was offered just three job possibilities: baker, printer's assistant or cobbler.