We’re sure going to miss you, Tom Harkin

Sen. Tom HarkinLast week Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) announced he will not seek a sixth term in the U.S. Senate, and this past Tuesday Disability Scoop interviewed my fellow Easter Seals blogger Katy Neas for an article about the many things Harkin has done over the years to advocate for those of us with disabilities. From the article:

While many members of Congress are sympathetic to the needs of those with disabilities, Harkin has a “laser focus” on this population that’s not currently shared by any of his colleagues, said Katy Neas, who worked for Harkin as a congressional staffer in the 1980s and early 1990s and currently handles government relations for Easter Seals.

Katy told the reporter that Harkin looks at every piece of legislation that comes his way and asks what it might mean for people with disabilities.

Without such an ally in the Senate, Neas said disability advocates will soon be left to persuade lawmakers who have other items at the top of their agendas.

“We’re going to have our work cut out for us educating legislators about why people with disabilities should be a priority,” she said.

Harkin was the leading force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act. Melanie Gabel, the Conference and Meeting Coordinator for the Executive Office here at Easter Seals, worked in D.C. with Senator Harkin on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy back in the 80s and 90s to get that landmark legislation passed.

Melanie grew up in Iowa, and like Tom Harkin’s beloved late brother Frank, Melanie was born with a significant hearing loss. She told me her fondest memory of working with Sen. Harkin is being there to see him on the U.S. Senate Floor introducing the Americans with Disabilities Act in sign language, dedicating it to his brother.

“Seeing him signing that statement, I was overwhelmed with emotions,” Melanie said, describing her feelings of empowerment, happiness and, for the first time in her young adult life, patriotism. “It made me proud to have, and know, a true friend and champion of disability rights on Capitol Hill.”

Melanie echoed what Katy Neas told the Disability Scoop reporter, regaling me me with story after story of Harkin paying special attention to any legislation that could potentially impact the disability community. “Having him not be present there on Capitol Hill will be difficult,” she said. “He was always the fighter for disability rights, and he will be missed.”


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