History of disability rights interactive timeline: text-only

An audiovisual version of the following text is available on DRW’s Rooted in Rights You Tube Channel.

The history of disability rights interactive timeline is a work in progress.  It shows a brief overview of the disability rights movement in America during the past 60-70 years.  We would like your involvement in expanding it.  If you think a crucial event is missing, write about that event in the comment section and we will review your contribution for possible inclusion in the timeline.

Our goal is to develop material that can be used in school curricula for teaching disability awareness and history.

You can be a part of that!   If one of your classes is studying disability history, challenge your fellow students to see how many events your class can add to the timeline.  After adding a comment describing a historical event in the comment section below, send a separate email with your name and address to [email protected] and please put the phrase DisAbility Galaxy History in the subject line.  If your event is selected for inclusion in the timeline, we’ll send you a DisAbility Rights Galaxy magnet and bumper sticker.

If one class (40 students or less) is successful in have 5 or more of its submissions selected for inclusion in the timeline, we’ll send the entire class Galaxy magnets and bumper stickers.  If you are  participating as a class in this activity, be sure to include that fact and your teacher’s name in the email described above to [email protected]

[timeline src=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Ap1G47FXae3mdHVaMzNuUzgxQlVXREI5OWNXTEhfS0E” width=”100%” height=”650″ maptyp

1944 — 1949

WWII Soldiers Return to America

With the return of disabled WWII soldiers comes a major increase in the percentage of the American population with a disability. The issues surrounding the disabled community — rights, benefits, employment, — suddenly become a much more pressing matter to politicians of the time. Several non-profit organizations are formed with the intent of aiding and rehabilitating veterans.

Image: World War II veterans ride atop an old-style car during a parade celebrating the end of the war in New York City. Crowds line the streets.

October 1947

President Truman Begins His “National Employ the Handicapped Week”

President Truman primarily designed his campaign to convince business owners that hiring the disabled was “good business.” A series of advertisements, billboards, and movie trailers are released to accompany the campaign, attempting to inspire citizens to embrace the cause.

Image: In the Oval Office, President Harry Truman sits, discusses and jots notes about new legislation with two of his aides.

1950 — 1959

Disability Protection Expanded Within Social Security

Beginning with the Social Security Amendments of 1950 and continuing with further modifications throughout the decade, people with disabilities see their Social Security coverage expanded to include costs involved with their disabilities.

Image: A shuffling of blue and white social security cards.


Ed Roberts Sues His Way into UC-Berkeley

Ed Roberts, a California native who contracted polio at the age of fourteen, successfully wins a lawsuit against the University of California after several unsuccessful attempts at enrollment. The university agrees to admit Roberts on the condition that he would be housed in the infirmary where they could safely operate his iron lung. In the following few years, several other disabled students would join Roberts in the infirmary — a band of students which became known as the “Rolling Quads.” The “Quads,” with Roberts at the forefront, will go on to be prominent leaders of the disability rights movement in the following decades.

Image: A view of UC-Berkeley, with the clock tower as the centerpiece, during a clear, sunny day. Multiple red-roofed buildings dot the landscape.

July 2, 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The long-awaited legislation is signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson outlawing institutional discrimination based on race. The Civil Rights Act would later be used by disability rights advocates as a template for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Image: President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act into law in a crowded hall. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands directly behind President Johnson as the bill is signed.


Architectural Barriers Act

The Act requires all federally constructed buildings or facilities to be accessible to people with physical disabilities. This is considered the first piece of legislation passed specifically for the rights of people with disabilities.

Image: A modern house in a seemingly suburban location is shown with both a staircase and ramp leading to its entrances.


Rolling Quads Begin Physically Disabled Student Program (PDSP)

Ed Roberts, John Hessler, Hale Zukas — three of the “Rolling Quads” — start the PDSP at UC-Berkeley. The organization sets out to enable students with disabilities to live independently with the help of personal assistance services from their peers.

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June 1970

Judith Heumann Starts Disabled in Action in New York City

After a successful employment discrimination lawsuit against the public school system of New York, Heumann founds the organization to fight for disability rights through litigation and demonstration. There are now several branches of Disabled in Action in major cities across the United States.

Image: The sharp black and white insignia of Disabled in Action — a shooting star with the letters “DIA” written above the star’s trail.


Willowbrook is Exposed

The appalling conditions at the Willowbrook State School, the largest institution for the mentally disabled at the time, spur outrage among the general American public after the inside of the institution is broadcast on cable news. With an enrollment far exceeding the institution’s capacity, there is lack of decent clothing, privacy and living space — prompting Robert Kennedy to deem it a “snake pit.” Along with a lawsuit filed by parents of Willowbrook residents, the publicity is enough to shut down Willowbrook and move the residents to community-living arrangements.

Image: A black metal fence lies in front of a cubical, brick institution which appears to have barred windows.

June 1972

Ed Roberts Heads the Berkeley Center for Independent Living

Evolving from the Physically Disabled Students Program at UC-Berkeley, the CIL is designed to make independent living possible for the general public, not just Berkeley students.

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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The most important legislative achievement for the disability rights movement to date, the Rehabilitation Act confronts discrimination against people with disabilities within state-sponsored programs. The implementation of Section 504 of the bill, which states that all federal funded programs cannot discriminate against “otherwise qualified handicapped,” becomes a point of contention for the disability rights movement in the following years.

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Halderman vs. Pennhurst

Filed on behalf of the residents at the Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, the case becomes a precedent for deinstitutionalization and the right to community integration for people with disabilities.

Image: The state flag of Pennsylvania is displayed – a royal blue background with two black horses faced each other, divided by the state’s insignia and bald eagle sitting atop it.


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act

A landmark piece of legislation, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act guarantees children with disabilities the right to attend public schools through high school in an integrated setting. The act is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Image: A black and white photo of a line of children, all who appear to be using either a wheelchair or brace, being introduced to school teachers.

June 6, 1975

Ed Roberts Appointed Director of California Department of Rehabilitation

Ed Roberts takes over the department which once deemed him unfit to work. As director, he sets up nine successful independent living centers across the state of California.

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April 5, 1977

San Francisco Sit-ins Earn Victory for Disability Rights Movement

150 disability rights advocates, outraged at how long the state of California had taken to implement the Rehabilitation Act’s regulations (specifically Section 504), protest at the San Francisco Office of U.S. Health, Education and Welfare. The protest quickly moves to the inside of the building, with protesters refusing to leave until Joseph Califano, the U.S. Secretary of the department, signs the regulations into law. From April 5 until May 1, the protesters live and sleep in the building, leaving only once Califano finally agrees to implement the regulations immediately. This is the largest sit-in at a federal building to date.

Image: The San Francisco office of U.S. Health, Education, and Welfare – a classically designed white stone building situated on the very corner of a city block.


ADAPT Founded

American Disabled for Public Transit is founded in Denver, Colorado, and gains nation-wide attention when its members take a transit bus hostage, demanding that it become wheelchair accessible. The organization now has branches in 30 states and continues to engage in nonviolent direct action to address disability discrimination.

Image: A black outline of the widespread handicapped symbol – a stick figure seated in a wheelchair.

1982 — 1984

“Baby Doe” and “Baby Jane Doe” Spark Outrage and Lawsuit

The parents of “Baby Doe,” an infant with Down Syndrome, are advised by their doctors to deny life-saving surgery to Baby Doe due to her disability. Baby Doe dies due to hunger and starvation despite disability rights activists efforts to save the child. Two years later, a very similar case takes place with a newborn known as “Baby Jane Doe.” This time, a lawsuit is filed, titled U.S. Supreme Court of Bowen vs. American Hospital Association. The lawsuit is successful and outlaws the practice through the Child Abuse Prevention Acts.

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June 1984 — June 1987

Politicans Speak Out About Disability Discrimination

Ted Kennedy uses the Democratic National Convention to raise awareness on disability discrimination. Justin Dart, the Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, is forced to resign after he criticizes the treatment people with disabilities receive from the federal government. Both politicians become integral parts of the passage of the ADA in 1990.

Image: A portrait of Ted Kennedy, dressed in suit and tie, with the Capitol building in Washington D.C. looming behind him.


Gallaudet Students Demand Deaf President

Students at Gallaudet University, the premier deaf university in the U.S., stage a week-long protest after the school’s Board of Trustees appoints a new, non-deaf president of the university. The protests are successful; Gallaudet appoints its first ever deaf president, I. King Jordan.

Image: Overlooking the top of a mass protest, only the countless raised open palms of the protesters are visible.


Not Dead Yet is Formed to Oppose Euthanasia Advocates

With the worry that looser euthanasia laws would lead to an increase in “mercy killings” of people with disabilities, Not Dead Yet is founded to oppose the rising euthanasia movement lead by Jack Kevorkian (often nicknamed “Dr. Death”). Not Dead Yet specifically tries to outlaw both the “rationing” of health care to people with disabilities and the “Do Not Resuscitate” medical orders often placed on them.

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Olmstead vs. L.C. Solidifies the Right to the “Most Integrated Setting”

The Olmstead Case becomes the new precedent for the deinstitutionalization movement. The case establishes that since Title II of the ADA guarantees people with disabilities the right to access public facilities, forcing those people to stay in inappropriate settings where they cannot access those facilities is a violation of their rights. Thus, Olmstead declares that all states must move people with disabilities from instituions — if they are deemed able — to more community-integrated settings at a “reasonable pace.”

Image: A photo of the front façade of the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. The building is a classically-inspired white stone structure, complete with tall pillars and intricate details along the top edges of the building.

October 29, 2002

Help America Vote Act Opens Up Polls to Those with Disabilities

By improving access to voting locations, the Help America Vote Act enabled people with disabilities to cast their votes in the standard, private setting of a voting booth rather than by absentee ballot or other means.

Image: A long line of people wait outside of a voting center in a sunny, palm-treed location.


Ashley’s Treatment Sparks Controversy

The parents of Ashley, a ten year old Seattle child with severe developmental disabilities, choose to her into surgery to cut off her sexual development. The procedure sparks outrage from disability rights groups who condemn the parents and doctors for violating their child’s rights for a full life. The surgery is also later revealed to be illegal, furthering the controversy.

Image: Infant Ashley is pictured beside a Christmas tree, wearing Christmas-themed clothes.


Rosa’s Law Changes Federal Vocabulary

Due to the efforts of a nine year old girl named Rosa, the law immediately changes all references in federal literature from “mental retardation” to “intellectual disability.”

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Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The landmark health care law prohibits insurance companies from denying health coverage based on preexisting conditions like disabilities.

Image: Barack Obama’s signature is written under the word “Approved” on a piece of official-looking parchment.

Will is the editor for the Galaxy Awareness and History pages as well as one of our pollsters. He is a sophomore at Seattle University majoring in philosophy. His home is La Crosse Wisconsin.