ADA Memories w/ Elise Knopf and Sen. Harkin

MNCDHH is still celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passage! This video includes a historic and poignant story about 2 people who were involved with the passage of the ADA. One of the individuals is Minnesota's one and only... Elise Knopf! The other is Senator Tom Harkin, who was introduced the ADA  into the Senate in 1990.
Text version below:

[Screenshot: “ADA Memories” with a picture of Elise Knopf and Senator Harkin from a long time ago]

[Screenshot: “with Elise Knopf & Sen. Tom Harkin” with a picture of recent picture of Elise Knopf and Senator Harkin]

[Elise appears on the screen and begins to sign.]

I have had an amazing day. My name is Elise Knopf. Today, I work as the state coordinator for Deaf Services for Vocational Rehabilitation. I attended the ADA 25th Anniversary luncheon.

[Screenshot of a logo with ADA (in red) Americans with Disabilities Act (in black) 25 (in blue) 1990-2015 (in black) and white background.]

[Elise appears and begins to sign.]

I knew that Senator Harkin was coming and I had to see him because my first job after college was working for Senator Harkin. I started that job in the summer of 1989.

[Screenshot of image of young Elise and Senator Harkin]

[Elise appears and begins to sign.]

During that time, as you might remember, the ADA was written and passed.

[Video clip of Elise and Senator Harkin talking (surrounded by people)]

Harkin>>>What year did you work with me?

Elise>>>Really from 1989 to 1992.

[Video clip ends, back to Elise who begins to sign.]

A lot has taken place in those 25 years. I hadn’t seen Senator Harkin since 1993 or 1994. So, it had been a long time. I worked for him in the sub-committee on Disability Policy, also as a legislative correspondent.

[Screenshot of old picture of a group of people standing in front of the U.S. Capitol building in professional dress.]

[Elise returns to the screen and continues to sign.]

My job was to respond to Iowa constituents on issues related to health care, education, disability, and I think, labor laws. During that time, all of the hearings meetings, the crafting of the legislation, and the organizing went into the passage of the ADA. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on me and people all over the country who have disabilities. At that time, I was just 21. It was something. Now I am 48. So, it has been a long time. But to see Sen. Harkin again brought back so many memories. He changed the world.

[Screenshot of Senator Harkin at a rally and signing ILU.]

He impacted my world. I remember growing up using speech and lipreading, but no sign language, until I moved to D.C. after I got my bachelor’s degree. When I moved to work for Tom, he encouraged me to visit Gallaudet. That was when I was learning about myself as a Deaf person and I took my first ASL class. After I worked there for 3 years, I decided to apply for graduate school at Gallaudet. My life’s path has taken various twists and turns, with different jobs and states, but I always remembered his influence on me. So, today, was the first time to see him since 1994. At first, he didn’t recognize me. Of course, he meets so many people around the world and the country. He’s a politician, after all. But I could see him looking at me during the panel discussion. Probably wondering, “Who’s that girl?” Finally, someone passed a message to him explaining who I was, so in the middle of the panel, he raised his hand and exclaimed, “I know you, Elise.” Which made me feel so good that he remembered me. Part of me didn’t expect that he would remember me, but another part was hoping that he would, because he is an important person in my life. He was like a grandfather to me. So, after the panel was done, I waited for my turn in line, and when I got up to him, he gave me a big hug.

[Video clip of Elise and Senator Harkin hugging.]

[Returns to Elise, who continues to sign.]

It was so great. It’s hard to find the words to express what it was like. We started off just trading memories of those times working together. We had so many stories to share.

[Video clip of Senator Harking sharing a story.]

Harkin>>> They have bases loaded and a guy up to bat. They have two outs. And remember, Michele Reilly? Michele Reilly?

Elise>>> Michele Reilly.

Harkin>>> … was coaching. She put me out in right field. It was starting to get dark. This guy comes up to bat. Two outs. Bases loaded. He hits the ball. Whack! And it went right out towards me. And I can still hear Michele Reilly yell, “Oh my God. “He hit it to Harkin.” And I had to run, really fast - and I made a diving catch - and I caught the ball and rolled on the ground and we won the game.

Elise>>> That was the best.

[Screenshot of old photo of Elise in baseball uniform. A woman is to her right and is wearing a shirt with the words Harkins Heroes on it.]

[Elise returns and continues to sign.]

25 years since the ADA has passed. A lot to think about. Some people think that the ADA has not really helped that much, but it really has helped a lot. It helped to raise awareness, as Sen. Harkin said, “It’s really only been the last 6 years that people are starting to really pass the message and that changes in technology are opening up job opportunities. It takes time for change. Just because a law is passed doesn’t mean it will change over night. It takes time, but I think we are going to the right place. I was very happy to see him again today.

[Video clip of Elise and Senator Harkin talking. They exchange high fives.]
[Screenshot of a picture of Senator Harking in session. Written above the picture are the words, “To Elise, With my thanks for your good work! Your Senator Tom Harkin.]


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