Harkin celebrates 24 years of ADA

BY PAUL OSGERBY | JULY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Entering the closing months of his prolific career in Congress, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, visited the Pedestrian Mall on July 26 to honor the landmark legislation he helped introduce more than 20 years ago.

July 26 was the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and now the long-serving senator wants to see more transportation accessibility and integrated educational opportunities.

“It still holds the record for the most number of people to be at the White House for the signing of the bill,” Harkin said. “I think there were some thousands.”

The bill was introduced in 1988 by Harkin and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 25, 1990.

The ADA was engineered as a civil-rights law to fight discrimination against physical and mental disabilities. It grants protection and support in similar ways of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the ADA website.

The bill recognizes four pillars: equal opportunity, full participation in life, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.

Disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity” in the legislation.

“In 24 years, we haven’t reached the promised land, but we’ve come a long way in this country,” Harkin said. “It did start to change the physical infrastructure, but it also did something else. It started to change the attitudinal barriers that people had in this country.”

The 2014 Johnson County ADA Committee, a conglomerate of disability support and educational organizations, set the event up.

Harkin said that transportation, specifically in airplanes and taxis, are major barriers the bill faces going forward.

Curb cuts are a cornerstone adaptation that was facilitated through the ADA, but approximately 560,000 disabled citizens do not leave their homes because of transportation issues, according to a report from the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Iowa City City Councilor Kingsley Botchway said he agrees that the city needs to make transportation, and the broader infrastructure, more accessible in the area.

Transportation is not the only area that needs improvement.

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done to fully integrate people,” Harkin said. “We need first-class education for those with disabilities.”

He would like to see more university departments add courses dealing with disabilities, he said, including policies in the business school or designs in engineering.

“[The University of Iowa] has accepted, with open arms, the UI REACH program,” said Pam Ries, the director of REACH.

REACH is a branch of the College of Education, serving students with differing types of cognitive and intellectual disabilities. It is a two-year transitional certificate that integrates students into campus dormitories and classrooms.

Students can also take on internships in the community.

The program is one of 27 models across the nation that fully integrates students with disabilities into the higher education system, said Jo Hendrickson, a UI professor and executive director of REACH.

The program began seven years ago with 18 students, and it has grown in its effort to assist challenged students in becoming more independent while receiving higher education.

Ries said 52 students will come into the program this fall.

Harkin told The Daily Iowan he thinks that the university and city partnership has done a pretty good job to make Iowa City accessible for disabilities.

However, the state of Iowa is falling further and further behind, he said.

Larger communities are doing their part to build and adapt accessibly, but Harkin said the smaller communities face too many challenges to keep up.

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