Many people look to their older siblings for inspiration. U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin is no exception.
Harkin's older brother, Frank, was deaf. His struggles were behind many of the younger brother's efforts to help the disabled, including the landmark 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. Tom Harkin was one of the main authors as well as the chief Senate sponsor of the legislation.
“He was a great guy and a great brother,” Tom Harkin said in a 2000 interview after Frank Harkin died at age 78. “Many of those things that I worked on for all those years were inspired by my brother.”
The act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The legislation altered the American landscape by requiring that buildings and transportation be wheelchair-accessible and that workplace accommodations be provided for those with disabilities. It also prohibited businesses and governments from discriminating against the disabled in job applications and required closed captioning for television.
In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court found that unnecessary institutionalization of the disabled violated the act. But a study released last week, commissioned by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that Harkin chairs, found that institutionalization remains a problem.
Harkin said Thursday that moving working-aged disabled out of nursing homes and similar facilities would not only be more humane but also be less expensive.
“The isolation of working-aged persons with disabilities in institutions is a shameful holdover,” he said. “Integration into the community is the right thing to do. It is a smarter use of our Medicaid dollars.”
Harkin may introduce legislation later this year that would keep states from making the disabled live in institutions when they don't want to or need to.