23 Jul 2015
“With today’s signing of the landmark Americans [with] Disabilities Act every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, freedom and independence.”
– President George H. W. Bush, July 26, 1990.
July 26, 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I was present at the bill signing in 1990 when President George H. W. Bush announced, “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans [with] Disabilities Act every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, freedom and independence.” These words launched a watershed moment for American civil rights.
This past Monday, I was honored to be invited back to the White House to celebrate the anniversary of the ADA. President Obama spoke about the accomplishments of this momentous civil rights legislation.  “Thanks to the ADA,” he said, “the places that comprise our shared American life – schools, workplaces, movie theaters, courthouses, buses, baseball stadiums, national parks – they truly belong to everyone.  Millions of Americans with disabilities have had the chance to develop their talents and make their unique contributions to the world.  And thanks to them, America is stronger and more vibrant; it is a better country because of the ADA.”
This civil rights milestone has improved the quality of life for more than 50 million Americans. Though it prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, we are still grappling with economic inequality.
The dedication and work ethic of people with disabilities make them valuable employees.  However, these assets are often overlooked by employers.
It is this disparity that encourages me to discover more opportunities for qualified students with disabilities so that they may attain independence and professional fulfillment. I am happy to say that I am not alone in the trenches.
As a former Ball State University trustee and a current trustee of the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, it is a privilege and a pleasure to introduce a partnership with these prestigious institutions at Eskenazi Health. The innovative Eskenazi Health Initiative for Empowerment and Economic Independence is a partnership with Ball State University’s Disability Project that places students with disabilities in paid internships in Indianapolis. Not only do these students gain valuable professional experience in their fields of study, they develop professional networks and relationships, which often lead to productive employment.
The program recently received support from Lilly Endowment to help it expand.  In addition, we have grown our list of partners with the addition of Emmis Communications, who is hosting a student with a disability for a summer internship.
As President Obama stated, “Days like the [anniversary of the ADA] are a celebration of our history.  But they’re also a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future – to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain.”

With the continued support of organizations, including the Lilly Endowment, the Lilly Foundation, and the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), and efforts of our valued partners, our reach will grow to touch even more lives filled with promise and hope.  And with each individual dream fulfilled, we realize the power and possibilities of the ADA and America.

Senator Tom Harkin
July 20th, 2015

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