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Common Sense

The Americans with Disabilities Act

August 5, 2009
Traer Star-Clipper


Senator Tom Harkin

19 Years of Progress

This month, we commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the landmark civil rights law securing the rights of people with disabilities. As chief Senate sponsor of this legislation, I remember the day it was signed into law June 26, 1990 as one of the proudest in my entire legislative career.

Nineteen years later, we have made amazing progress. Thanks to the ADA, streets, buildings and transportation are more accessible for people with physical impairments. Information is offered in alternative formats, so that it is useable by individuals with visual or hearing impairments. These changes are all around us, and are so integrated into our daily lives that it is sometimes hard to remember how the world was before. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities can have equal opportunity in the workplace. And we have advanced the four goals of the ADA equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

Just as important, because of ADA, we have seen an enormous change in attitudes. It used to be socially acceptable to treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens, to exclude and marginalize them. Today, by contrast, the expectation is that we will do what it takes to give people with disabilities not just physical access, but an equal opportunity in our schools, in our workplaces, in all areas of our economy and society. We recognize that people with disabilities like all people have unique abilities, talents and aptitudes. And that America is better, fairer, and richer when we make full use of those gifts.

We have not yet arrived at the Promised Land certainly not with a 60 percent unemployment rate among people with disabilities. We have a long way to go. But, on this anniversary, we have much to celebrate.

On July 26, 1990, when he signed ADA into law, President George Herbert Walker Bush spoke with great eloquence. And I will never forget his final words before taking up his pen. He said, "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."

Nearly two decades later, that wall is indeed falling. The ADA has opened doors, created opportunity, and transformed lives. Let us continue this progress!

To watch a video of the speech I gave on the Senate floor in honor of the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, go to



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