Despite ADA, Iowa Still Heavily Institutionalized

Jul 28, 2015

It’s been 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities act was signed into law. The bill’s chief sponsor, Fmr. Senator Tom Harkin, says that the legislation has done quite a lot in the last two and a half decades, including adding curb cuts to all sidewalks and spurring a flurry of technological innovation to accommodate workers with disabilities.

“Before the ADA, if you had a disability, that’s how you were defined, and you weren’t given an opportunity to show what else you were capable of doing,” Harkin says.

Harkin’s brother, Frank, was deaf and was limited to only three professions in which he could work as an adult.

To have a disability is to be constantly improvising. The world does not always cater to my needs. But it can be a quick way to connect with people. Having my unique experiences makes me a better man, a better advocate. Emmanuel Smith, disability rights advocate

During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Harkin. In the second half of the show, Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, and advocates, Emmanuel Smith and Gary McDermott, join the conversation as well.

McDermott has been in a wheelchair for most of his life. He says before the ADA, it was tough to get around.

“It was difficult to find parking, or even a bathroom in a store,” says Gary McDermott. “The ADA has changed the perspective people have of people with disabilities. They can get out and work. They have money to spend. They have families, just like everybody else."

People with disabilities were heavily institutionalized before the ADA. In Iowa that’s getting better, but according to Hudson, the state has a long way to go.  

“Iowa is a heavily institutionalized state. We would all rather live at home with supports and services rather than be in a nursing facility, so that needs to change,” she says.