Presidential Lecture Series

Tom Harkin

Recognition Year: 
2015-16

United States Senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015 and Author, Americans with Disabilities Act

November 3, 2015

7 p.m. Lecture
Wright State Nutter Center Arena

5:30 p.m. Public Reception

Co-sponsored with Office of Disability Services

Tom Harkin was elected to Congress from Iowa’s Fifth District in 1974. After serving 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he challenged an incumbent senator and won. Iowans returned him to the Senate in 1990, 1996 and 2002. In 2008, Harkin made history by becoming the first Iowa Democrat to win a fifth term in the Senate. He retired in January 2015.

Senator Ted Kennedy tasked a young Senator Harkin with crafting legislation to protect the civil rights of millions of Americans with physical and mental disabilities. Harkin knew firsthand about the challenges facing people with disabilities. His late brother, Frank, had been deaf from an early age. What emerged from that process would later become Harkin’s signature legislative achievement—The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA legislation changed the landscape of America by requiring buildings and transportation to be wheelchair accessible, and to provide workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. Harkin and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the 2008 ADA Amendments bill to ensure continuing protections.

Harkin has also worked to advance collaborative research in paralysis and improve quality of life for those living with paralysis, including creating a Clinical Trials Network to measure the effectiveness of rehabilitation therapies. His Christopher and Dana Reeve Act, named after the actor and his wife, became law in March 2009.

As chairman of the Senate panel that funds medical research, Harkin led the effort between 1998 and 2003 (in tandem with Sen. Arlen Specter) to double funding for research into cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases. As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, he crafted the prevention and wellness title of the health reform bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Harkin became chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in September 2009, following Kennedy’s death.

Harkin was born in Cumming, Iowa (pop. 150), on November 19, 1939, the son of an Iowa coal miner father and a Slovenian immigrant mother. He still lives in the house in Cumming where he was born. In 1968, He married Ruth Raduenz. The Harkins have two daughters, Amy and Jenny, and three grandchildren.