The Harkin Challenge

“We need to be open to bold new ideas that no one has tried before. We need to be willing to take risks and fail, because that is how we will learn. And we need to listen to each other across sectors, with disabled people and their organizations always helping to center the strategies on the goals and dreams of disabled people.” – Senator Tom Harkin (retired), 2017 Harkin International Disability Employment Summit

At the 2017 Harkin International Disability Employment Summit, Senator Tom Harkin (retired) issued a bold challenge: to double the labor force participation rate of people with disabilities in the United States and around the world within 10 years.

In his 40 years in Congress, Senator Harkin played a leadership role in enacting a legislative agenda that advanced the civil and human rights of children and adults with disabilities. In the process, he worked closely with leaders of the disability rights movement around the U.S.

Over time, he became increasingly focused on one area – helping people with all types of disabilities participate fully in their communities by working in the competitive labor market.

Tackling this problem will require us to work together across sectors – government, business, researchers, disabled people’s organizations, educators, service providers, family leaders, philanthropy, religious institutions, media – with a common goal of generating new approaches that bring sectors together to re-imagine what is possible.