A United States lawmaker who has been a longtime advocate for the country's disabled population announced this week that he will retire from the Senate next year. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who is 73, said he will not seek re-election for a sixth term, causing worry among some in the disability community.
"Sen. Harkin has been a huge champion in the disability community," said the president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities. "Moving forward, I hope that we can find someone who can step into his very large shoes and it's going to be difficult."
The senator was one of the driving forces behind the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and has contributed to the success of countless other laws addressing the needs of the disabled population, from education rights to health care initiatives to independent living opportunities. After 40 years in Congress, Sen. Harkin said he feels "it's somebody else's turn."
But those in the disability community wonder who that "somebody else" will be. Currently, there are many people in Congress who support the disabled population, but no individual comes close to the backing provided by Sen. Harkin, said the president and CEO of the AAPD. One of Sen. Harkin's former staffers said the senator has a "laser focus" on the disabled population, unlike any other member of Congress.
The senator has said that his late brother, who was deaf, inspired him to fight for the rights of people with special needs. Because he has been so concerned about improving the lives of those with disabilities, Sen. Harkin considered how each and every bill would affect the population.
Disability advocates say it will likely be harder to convince lawmakers to pay attention to issues affecting people with disabilities without Sen. Harkin on their side, but his work will never be forgotten.
Source: Disability Scoop, "After Four Decades, Disability Champion Leaving Congress," Michelle Diament, Jan. 29, 2013