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Former Sen. Tom Harkin discusses what is ahead for the ADA

 

BY

BRENT GRIFFITHS |

JULY 27, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan Ethics and Politics Initiative spoke to former Sen. Tom
Harkin, D-Iowa, on July 24 about the background, legacy, and future of the
Americans

with Disabilities Act. Harkin was the lead author of what became the ADA 25
years ago and has been honored by numerous organizations for his advocacy on

behalf of people with disabilities.

 

DI:  I spoke with Marca Bristo's, Access Living CEO and former head of the
National Council on Disabilities, and she told me that in her opinion that
the

ADA could not be passed in today's political environment. Is that something
you agree with?

 

Harkin: I do. We had celebrations all week this week and last week and will
continue on for a couple of days next week celebrating the 25th anniversary

of the ADA and sort of looking back and seeing how far we've come and sort
of taking stock and seeing where we need to go to in the future.

 

A lot of the meetings I've been in with like [former] Sen. [Bob] Dole,
[R-Kan.] and [former] Sen. [Lowell] Weicker, [R- Conn.] Republicans [former]
Rep.

Steve Bartlett [R-Texas] another Republican - it was unique point in time.
First of all, we had a president of the United States that put his full
weight

behind it. In fact, when George H.W. Bush campaigned for president in 1988,
he committed himself to this. If elected president, he was going to support

a civil-rights bill for people with disabilities, and he followed through on
that.

 

So here we had the president putting a lot of his support behind it. We had
at that time a minority leader Bob Dole helping us on it. We just had
Republicans

and Democrats coming together to get this thing passed. I just think that
today that just wouldn't happen.

 

We had the business community opposed to it, but we worked with the business
community, and we got it worked out. So rather than the Republicans saying,

"We're opposed to it, because the business community is opposed to it," a
lot these of Republicans said, "Let's work this out; we want to get it done,

what are your objections?" They went right back to the business community
and said, "What can we do to make it acceptable?"

 

I think today if the business community came out opposed to something like
that, a lot of these people on the other side of the aisle would say that's
it,

we're not going to support it.

 

So we had conscientious people on both sides of the aisle, Republicans and
Democrats that came together. I just don't think that in the today's
atmosphere

the ADA could be passed.

 

DI: Do you think that any challenges or obstacles could rise up to the ADA
with the current political climate?

 

Harkin: Well, we're still having obstacles in expanding the ADA and making
it a reality. A lot of those are just inherent in changing this vast system
that

we have. I think we've overcome most of them. I think the law is
well-settled. Now, we have regulations coming out to enforce the ADA, and
that's where

the stumbling blocks might be in the future - that is as with any law, you
have to have regulations on how the law is to be implemented and enforced.
That's

usually when we run into problems with people not wanting to support the
regulations.

 

DI: There has been some push back from American Hotel and Lodging
Association and the motion-pictures industry [specifically the National
Association of

Theater Owners] to some of the most recent ADA regulations.  Do you foresee
that happening more so down the road as the [Justice Department] rolls out

more regulations?

 

Harkin: There probably well be, but every time objections are raised, we
find that it does not require much to comply with the regs. A lot of it is
just

an immediate reaction and in just about every case I have seen in the past,
once the business community adopts those regs and complies with them they
actually

do better in terms of their own bottom line - in terms of hiring people with
disabilities and employing people with disabilities. That is the big
challenge

of the future, jobs for people with disabilities. Understand this, more than
60 percent of adult Americans with disabilities are not in the workforce.

 That is just a blot on our national character - everything we are doing now
is to try to overcome that and to get more people with disabilities in the

mainstream workforce of America.

 

DI: Do you need affirmative action type policy to overcome that?

 

Harkin: Of course. Take one example, section 503 of the rehab act.
[Rehabilitation Act of 1973], one portion of that, section 503, says that
government

contractors have to make sure they practice diversity in hiring - not only
including race, sex, and religion but also disability. But it did not say
what

they had to do - it was sort of there. And so all these years we have been
pushing to get a regulation out to tell businesses, this is what we mean.
Within

the last couple of years, finally came out with a regulation that said that
businesses that contract with the government should have a minimum of 7
percent

of their workforce being people with disabilities. Now, there may be some of
exceptions to that depending on the size of the business, of course, but
that

is the floor. Since 20 percent of Americans are people with disabilities,
one of out every five, then the workforce in any given situation ought to
reflect

that. So 7 percent is not the end at all; it is sort of a floor, and it
should be as we go forward a heck of a lot more than that. That was just one
regulations.

And there are other regulations that people have to have affirmative-action
programs to make sure that they comply both with the Civil Rights Act of
1964

but also the ADA.

 

Take an example like the Civil Rights Act; you can't discriminate against
people of color. Let's say you employ, let's use an extreme example, let's
say

that you employ 100 people, but in your pool, you only have one person of
color who works there. Are you complying with the Civil Rights Act because
you

have one person out of 100? Let's say you just have one woman; are you
complying with the mandate on no discrimination of the basis of sex if you
have

one woman? No. It has to be reflective of the cross section of our society.

 

It is the same way with disability. You can't say, "Well, I've got one
disabled person out of a 100. Well yeah, but 20 percent of the American
people are

disabled. You've got to do a little bit better than that.

 

DI: The [Rehabilitation] act only applies to government contractors [and
federal agencies, programs receiving federal money, and federal employment].
What

do you think is best to do in terms of trying to get people with
disabilities hired by private employers?

 

Harkin: First of all,getting private employers to follow the lead of some
companies that are doing a very good job of employing people with
disabilities.

Walgreens, for example, has a tremendous affirmative-action program to hire
people with disabilities. And it is doing it. It has a goal of hiring at
least

10 percent of all people at all of its stores will be people with
disabilities. I visited a Walgreens distribution plant in Hartford,
Connecticut, a couple

of years ago; 40 percent of the people that work there were people with
disabilities. Forty percent. And the CEO said, "I don't do this out of the
goodness

of my heart," he said, that this is my most productive distribution center
in America. Other companies have to start looking at this and understanding

that sometimes the best workers they will ever get are people with
disabilities.

 

Again, there is always the backstop of legal action.

 

For example, if I'm a person with disability and I go down to apply for a
job for which I'm qualified. Now, I always want to make sure that this is
well

understood. Neither the ADA nor I ever asked an employer to hire someone who
is not qualified for that job.

 

You meet all the qualifications. They may have to make some minor
modification to the workplace.

So you are a person with a disability and you apply for a job for which you
are qualified and you don't get hired - you might want to take that case on.

The courthouse door is open.

 

DI: What are your thoughts in terms of making the online marketplace more
accessible and what role do you feel the government should have in that.

 

Harkin: Well, it's interesting you would ask me that, because I'm calling
from Google's headquarters here in Washington. And we just had a breakfast
with

people with disabilities and people who have been advocates in the past. I
said this not only to Google but to others, information and communications
technology

is going to be a big growth area in the next 25 years - it's huge. The
platforms that are designed for both the Internet and the intranet in
companies

have to be designed from the ground up to be fully accessible to people.
Google is basically taking quite a good lead in this area. It asks for ideas
and

suggestions about what it can do. To me, that is one of the key elements to
getting more jobs for more people with disabilities is adaptable technology.

Sometimes, a workplace can use technology to make sure that a person with
disability can work there - using technology to get their job done, for
example.

Information and commutations technology can be the gateway to mass numbers
of people with disabilities being employed in the future that, but the
Internet

not designed from the ground up to be accessible; that gate could be closed.
That is why it is so important for these high-tech companies to begin to
think

about what their platform design is like.

 

DI: You spoken a lot with, and in the Senate, talked a lot about the ADA
generation.  Do you see people in that generation stepping up and filling
the shoes

of those who made the ADA possible?

 

Harkin: Oh sure - that is why I am so optimistic about the future.  This ADA
generation that grew up under the ADA, they are now in their 20s and 30s:
they've

gone to school and through higher education, college graduates. This morning
I was with the young woman who was the first deaf woman lawyer in America

and she is African American. These young people, let me tell you, are not
going to take a back seat. They are going to continue to push these
frontiers

of employment, accessibility and adaptability. One of the young women here
this morning was Maria Town, and she works at the White House. She was in
charge

of putting on the whole White House celebration on Monday. There are persons
with disabilities that are in key positions. There are going to be business

leaders, social-type leaders and government leaders in the next 10 to 20
years, and they to will send powerful signals to younger people about what
is

possible. I just think this whole new generation they are going to take the
Americans with 

 

Source:

Disabilities Act to a new higher level.

 

http://www.dailyiowan.com/2015/07/27/Metro/42627.html



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