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On 24th ADA Anniversary, Harkin Reflects on Progress, Work Ahead to Ensure All Americans with Disabilities Have the Opportunity to Succeed

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released the following statement in recognition of the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a signature achievement for Harkin, who authored the bill and was its chief sponsor in the Senate when it was enacted in 1990.

“On Saturday, our nation marks the 24th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 20th century. In addition to being an Emancipation Proclamation for people with disabilities, the ADA has the very down-to-earth purpose of ensuring that people with disabilities can go places and do things that other Americans take for granted. 

“Over the past 24 years, the ADA has provided opportunity and access for more than 56 million Americans with disabilities. Prior to passage of this landmark civil rights legislation, these Americans routinely faced prejudice, discrimination and exclusion and insurmountable physical barriers in their everyday lives. And while there is still more work to do, we can now say that across the country, Americans with disabilities have an opportunity to participate more fully in our national life, through the removal of barriers in employment, transportation, public services, telecommunications and public accommodations.

“I look forward to building on and continuing that progress for years to come, and am especially pleased that earlier this week, America took another big step forward when the President signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which will ensure that all workers – including those with disabilities – have access to 21st century job training and employment opportunities. This is a big step in the push to strengthen employment opportunities for people with disabilities and will make a tremendous difference in the lives of people around the country.

“Taking these important steps to expand opportunities for people with disabilities is exactly the kind of progress we hoped for when we passed the ADA a quarter-century ago. But today, we are challenged to extend the rights and opportunities of the ADA to the rest of the world, especially to less-developed countries where people with disabilities face terrible discrimination. That’s why, in 2006, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), modeled on the ADA. The Convention was negotiated by President George W. Bush and signed by President Obama, and it now needs to be ratified by the Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Convention with a bipartisan vote of 12 to 6. I am working hard to bring it up for a vote in the full Senate as soon as possible. It’s an uphill fight, but I am optimistic. For the U.S. to be a shining city on a hill, an example to the world, the Senate needs to ratify this treaty and reassert American leadership on disability rights.”