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Clinton Calls Iowa To Demonstrate Technology For the Disabled

July 27, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The president of the United States was calling, but the line to Frank Harkin’s house in Cumming, Iowa, was busy.

So Bill Clinton passed the time with 40 or so disabled Americans who had gathered in the White House’s Roosevelt room to witness the conversation. Frank Harkin’s younger brother, Sen. Tom Harkin D-Iowa, stood next to the president.

A White House functionary stuck his head in the door. ″We may need Sen. Harkin to verify that it’s the White House calling,″ he said. Harkin hurried off.

″Great 3/8″ said the president. ″The line is busy. It means it’s working.″

The bumpy start began a ceremony marking the third anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the first day of a requirement that all telephone carriers provide relay services for customers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech impediments.

″This is Bill,″ the president said when the connection was made. ″I’m really glad to be able to talk to you now that the relay system is nationwide.″ Somewhere, a relay operator typed his words into a computer which then were read by Harkin in Iowa.

″Gee, thanks,″ Frank Harkin typed back. Frank is deaf.

″What we want to know is whether your place is wet or dry,″ Clinton said. ″I’ve been to Iowa twice and know how much flood you’ve had.″

Harkin typed the reply: ″I did watch on television when you were in Iowa.″ The operator read it to Clinton.

For this demonstration, a computer monitor was next to the president who watched with fascination as the words came across.

″Tell all the people here with me, how do you like the communications system?″ the president asked.

″It’s wonderful,″ said Frank.

Clinton mentioned that Tom Harkin, one of the early dropouts from the Democratic presidential race in 1992, had made Frank the most famous brother in America by mentioning his disability.

Frank had worked as a machinist for 23 years and was laid off. He found a job as a janitor in a shopping mall and then at the post office.

It turned out that he wasn’t on the phone after all when the president called; someone in the pre-call hubbub had left the telephone off the hook.

So when Tom Harkin couldn’t get through, he called Frank’s next door neighbor who rectified the situation.

Only then could the miracle of communication be performed.

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