The Arc of the United States and all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families lost its all time legislative champion with the death last night of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). His legislative achievements in the field of disability were many and far reaching. Civil rights, education and health care were the cornerstones of his efforts to help all Americans live decent and productive lives. In the rights arena, his most notable achievement was the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. He played an instrumental role in the passage of Public Law 94-142 in 1975 (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which gave every student with a disability the right to a free appropriate public education. Senator Kennedy was one of four Members of Congress who, along with former President George W. Bush, crafted the No Child Left Behind Act. He was instrumental in assuring that all students with disabilities would be part of the student achievement assessments under this law. Last year, he co-authored the Higher Education Opportunity Act which, for the first time in Federal law, will afford higher education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. Other major civil rights accomplishments that helped people with disabilities enter the mainstream of our society include the Fair Housing Act and the Voting Rights Act.
As a steady voice for comprehensive, quality and affordable health care reform, Senator Kennedy pushed hard over his decades of Senate service to expand the National Institutes of Health, created programs to protect pregnant women and children, the Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the recently enacted Medicare prescription drug expansion. As many have observed, his absence from the Senate this year has significantly hindered the passage of health care reform.
In his role as a member, Ranking Minority Member, and Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, he authored the Developmental Disabilities Act, established Protection and Advocacy Systems in every state, and oversaw several extensions of the Rehabilitation Act, including the addition of Supported Employment and steady increases in the minimum wage.
Senator Kennedy was first elected in 1962 and served six terms. He ranks third in total service in the U. S. Senate. He was often referred to as the "Lion of the Senate". A consummate deal maker, many of his legislative successes were due to his ability to reach across the aisle and secure bipartisan support, sometimes with the most conservative of Senators. He was an electrifying orator, his booming voice resounding off the walls of the Senate chamber. Senator Kennedy did his homework, always exceptionally well prepared for his Committee hearings, bill markups and floor speeches. He was often noted as having the best and most loyal staff on Capitol Hill.
Senator Kennedy often described his interest in disability policy due to his family history. Late in life, his father suffered from a serious stroke. His sister Rosemary was born with an intellectual disability and was sheltered during her adulthood in a private institution. His sister Eunice, who died only two weeks ago, headed up the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and created the Special Olympics. The Senator's two sons also experience disability. Ted Jr. lost a leg to cancer as a child. Patrick, a U. S. Congressman from Rhode Island, has a mental illness.
Senator Kennedy spoke at several events sponsored by The Arc, most notably the Disability Policy Seminar. In 2001, he was the recipient of The Arc's John H. Chafee Leadership in Public Policy Award. Last month, The Arc's President, Lynne Cleveland, announced that Senator Kennedy would be this year's President's Award recipient. This award will now be given posthumously at an event in the near future.