The following is a select list of national and
international milestones highlighting people, events and
legislation that effect disability rights.
The American School for the Deaf is founded in Hartford,
Connecticut. This is the first school for disabled
children anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
The Perkins Institution, founded by Samuel Gridley Howe in
Boston, Massachusetts, was the first residential
institution for people with mental retardation. Over the
next century, hundreds of thousands of developmentally
disabled children and adults were institutionalized, many
for the rest of their lives.
Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind was
authorized by the U.S. Congress to grant college degrees.
It was the first college in the world established for
people with disabilities.
Charles Darwin publishes his controversial book The Origin
of the Species.
P.T. Barnum’s American Museum on Broadway is destroyed by
a mysterious fire.
Eugenics is a term that was coined by Sir Francis Galton
in his book Essays in Eugenics. Americans embraced the
eugenics movement by passing laws to prevent people with
disabilities from moving to the U.S., marrying or having
children. Eugenics laws led to the institutionalization
and forced sterilization of disabled adults and children.
The Kallikak Family by Henry H. Goddard was a best selling
book. It proposed that disability was linked to immorality
and alleged that both were tied to genetics. It advanced
the agenda of the eugenics movement.
The Threat of the Feeble Minded (pamphlet) created a
climate of hysteria allowing for massive human rights
abuses of people with disabilities, including
institutionalization and forced sterilization.
The Smith-Sears Veterans Rehabilitation Act provided for
the promotion of vocational rehabilitation and return to
civil employment of disabled persons discharged from U.S.
The Commonwealth of Virginia passed a state law that
allowed for sterilization (without consent) of individuals
found to be “feebleminded, insane, depressed, mentally
handicapped, epileptic and other.” Alcoholics, criminals
and drug addicts were also sterilized.
The Buck v. Bell Supreme Court decision ruled that forced
sterilization of people with disabilities was not a
violation of their constitutional rights. This decision
removed all restraints for eugenicists. By the 1970s, over
60,000 disabled people were sterilized without their
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Commonwealth of Virginia
eugenic laws as constitutional. Justice Oliver Wendell
Holmes equated sterilization to vaccination. Nationally,
twenty-seven states began wholesale sterilization of
In order to take advantage of the popularity of Tod
Browning’s previous film Dracula the production head for
MGM commissioned a new project, to be “even more
horrible.” Freaks was released to near universal
criticism. It received so much bad press and created such
ill will that MGM was forced to withdraw it from
circulation, suffering a loss of $164,000.
The League for the Physically Handicapped in New York City
was formed to protest discrimination by the Works Progress
Administration (WPA). The Home Relief Bureau of New York
City stamped all applications with “PH” which stood for
physically handicapped. Members of the League held a
sit-in at the Home Relief Bureau for nine days and a
weekend sit-in at the WPA headquarters. These actions
eventually led to the creation of 1500 jobs in New York
The Social Security Act was passed. This established
federally funded old-age benefits and funds to states for
assistance to blind individuals and disabled children. The
Act extended existing vocational rehabilitation programs.
World War II began. Hitler ordered widespread mercy
killing of the sick and disabled. The Nazi euthanasia
program (code name Aktion T-4) was instituted to eliminate
“life unworthy of life.”
908 patients were transferred from an institution for
retarded and chronically ill patients in Schoenbrunn,
Germany to the euthanasia installation at Eglfing-Haar to
be gassed. A monument to the victims stands in the
courtyard at Schoenbrunn.
The National Federation of the Blind was formed in
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania by Jacobus Broek and others.
They advocated for white cane laws, input by blind people
for programs for blind clients and other reforms.
The American Federation of the Physically Handicapped,
founded by Paul Strachan, was the first cross-disability
national political organization to urge an end to job
discrimination, lobby for passage of legislation, call for
a National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week and
Hitler suspended the Aktion T4 program that killed nearly
one hundred thousand people. Euthanasia continued through
the use of drugs and starvation instead of gassings.
Henry Viscardi, an American Red Cross volunteer, trained
hundreds of disabled soldiers to use their prosthetic
limbs. His work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in
Washington, D.C. drew the attention of Howard Rusk and
Eleanor Roosevelt, who protested when Viscardi’s program
was terminated by the Red Cross and the military.
The LaFollette-Barden Vocational Rehabilitation Act added
physical rehabilitation to the goals of federally funded
vocational rehabilitation programs and provided funding
for certain health care services.
Howard Rusk began a rehabilitation program for disabled
airmen at the U.S. Army Air Force Convalescent Center in
Pawling, New York. Dubbed “Rusk’s Folly” by the medical
establishment, rehabilitation medicine became a new
President Harry Truman signed PL-176 creating an annual
National Employ the Handicapped Week.
The Hill-Burton Act (also known as the Hospital Survey and
Construction Act) authorized federal grants to states for
the construction of hospitals, public health centers and
health facilities for rehabilitation of people with
The National Mental Health Foundation was founded by World
War II conscientious objectors who served as attendants at
state mental institutions rather than in the war. The
Foundation exposed the abusive conditions at these
facilities and became an impetus toward
The President’s Committee on National Employ the
Physically Handicapped Week was held in Washington, D.C.
Publicity campaigns, coordinated by state and local
committees, emphasized the competence of people with
disabilities and used movie trailers, billboards, radio
and television ads to convince the public that it was good
business to hire the handicapped.
The Paralyzed Veterans of America was organized.
The National Paraplegia Foundation, founded by members of
the Paralyzed Veterans of America as the civilian arm of
their growing movement, took a leading role in advocating
for disability rights.
University of Illinois at Galesburg disabled students’
program was officially founded and directed by Timothy
Nugent. The program moved to the campus at
Urbana-Champaign where it became a prototype for disabled
student programs and independent living centers across the
We Are Not Alone (WANA), a mental patients’ self-help
group, was organized at the Rockland State Hospital in New
U.S. Civil Rights Movement
Mary Switzer was appointed the Director of the U.S. Office
of Vocational Rehabilitation where she emphasized
independent living as a quality of life issue.
Social Security Amendments established a federal-state
program to aid permanently and totally disabled persons.
Howard Rusk opened the Institute of Rehabilitation
Medicine at the New York University Medical Center in New
The President’s Committee on National Employ the
Physically Handicapped Week became the President’s
Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, a
permanent organization reporting to the President and
Los Angeles County provided at-home attendant care to
adults with polio as a cost-saving alternative to
The U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of
Topeka ruled that separate schools for black and white
children are unequal and unconstitutional. This pivotal
decision became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments were passed that
authorized federal grants to expand programs available to
people with physical disabilities.
Mary Switzer, Director of the U.S. Office of Vocational
Rehabilitation, authorized funds for more than 100
university-based rehabilitation-related programs.
Social Security Act of 1935 was amended by PL 83-761 to
include a freeze provision for workers who were forced by
disability to leave the workforce. This protected their
benefits by freezing their retirement benefits at their
Social Security Amendments of 1956 created the Social
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program for disabled
workers aged 50 to 64.
Social Security Amendments of 1958 extended Social
Security Disability Insurance benefits to dependents of
Rehabilitation Gazette (formerly known as the Toomeyville
Gazette), edited by Gini Laurie, was a grassroots
publication which became an early voice for disability
rights, independent living and cross-disability
organizing. It featured articles by writers with
Social Security Amendments of 1960 eliminated the
restriction that disabled workers receiving Social
Security Disability Insurance benefits must be 50 or
President Kennedy appointed a special President’s Panel on
The American National Standard Institute, Inc. (ANSI)
published American Standard Specifications for Making
Buildings Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically
Handicapped. This landmark document became the basis for
subsequent architectural access codes.
The President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically
Handicapped was renamed the President’s Committee on
Employment of the Handicapped reflecting increased
interest in employment issues affecting people with
cognitive disabilities and mental illness.
Edward Roberts sued to gain admission to the University of
California. (James Meredith sued to become the first black
person to attend the University of Mississippi.)
President Kennedy called for a reduction “over a number of
years and by hundreds of thousands, (in the number) of
persons confined” to residential institutions and asks
that methods be found “to retain in and return to the
community the mentally ill and mentally retarded, and
thereto restore and revitalize their lives through better
health programs and strengthened educational and
rehabilitation services.” This resulted in
deinstitutionalization and increased community services.
The Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Health
Centers Construction Act authorized federal grants for the
construction of public and private nonprofit community
mental health centers.
South Carolina passed the first statewide architectural
The Civil Rights Act, signed by President Johnson,
prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion,
ethnicity, national origin and creed (gender was added
later). This Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of
race in public accommodations and employment as well as in
federally assisted programs.
Medicare and Medicaid were established through passage of
the Social Security Amendments of 1965, providing
federally subsidized health care to disabled and elderly
Americans covered by the Social Security program. These
amendments changed the definition of disability under
Social Security Disability Insurance program from “of long
continued and indefinite duration” to “expected to last
for not less than 12 months.”
Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments of 1965 were passed
authorizing federal funds for construction of
rehabilitation centers, expansion of existing vocational
rehabilitation programs and the creation of the National
Commission on Architectural Barriers to Rehabilitation of
The National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the
Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York
was established by Congress.
The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation was
established by President Johnson.
Christmas in Purgatory by Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplan
documented conditions at state institutions for people
with developmental disabilities.
The Architectural Barriers Act prohibited architectural
barriers in all federally owned or leased buildings.
California legislature guaranteed that the Bay Area Rapid
Transit (BART) would be the first rapid transit system in
the U.S. to accommodate wheelchair users.
The Urban Mass Transit Act required all new mass transit
vehicles be equipped with wheelchair lifts. APTA delayed
implementation for 20 years. Regulations were issued in
The Rolling Quads was started by Ed Roberts at U C
Disabled in Action was a group started by Judy Heumann at
Long Island University, New York.
Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities
Construction Amendments were passed which contained the
first legal definition of developmental disabilities. They
authorized grants for services and facilities for the
rehabilitation of people with developmental disabilities
and state DD Councils.
The Physically Disabled Students Program (PDSP) was
founded by Ed Roberts, John Hessler, Hale Zukas and others
at UC Berkeley. With its focus on community living,
political advocacy and personal assistance services, it
became the nucleus for the first Center for Independent
Living, founded in 1972.
The National Center for Law and the Handicapped was
founded at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. It
became the first legal advocacy center for people with
disabilities in the U. S.
The U.S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama
decided in Wyatt v. Stickney that people in residential
state schools and institutions have a constitutional right
“to receive such individual treatment as (would) give them
a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve his or
her mental condition.” Disabled people were no longer to
be locked away in custodial institutions without treatment
The Mental Patients’ Liberation Project was initiated in
New York City.
The Fair Labor Standard Act of 1938 was amended to bring
people with disabilities (other than blindness) into the
sheltered workshop system.
The Berkeley Center for Independent Living was founded by
Ed Roberts and associates with funds from the
Rehabilitation Administration. It is recognized as the
first center for independent living.
The Rehabilitation Act was passed by Congress and vetoed
by Richard Nixon.
The U.S. District Court, District of Columbia ruled in
Mills v. Board of Education that the District of Columbia
could not exclude disabled children from the public
The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania,
in PARC v. Pennsylvania struck down various state laws
used to exclude disabled children from the public schools.
Advocates cited these decisions during public hearings
that led to the passage of the Education for All
Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
Social Security Amendments of 1972 created the
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The law
relieved families of the financial responsibility of
caring for their adult disabled children.
The Houston Cooperative Living Residential Project was
established in Houston, Texas. It became a model for
subsequent independent living programs.
The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law,
founded in Washington, D.C. provided legal representation
and advocated for the rights of people with mental
The Legal Action Center (Washington, D.C. and New York
City) was founded to advocate for the interests of people
with alcohol or drug dependencies and for people with
Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Paraplegia
Foundation and Richard Heddinger file suit against the
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to
incorporate accessibility into their design for a new,
multibillion-dollar subway system in Washington, D.C.
Their victory was a landmark in the struggle for
accessible public mass transit.
The Network Against Psychiatric Assault was organized in
In New York ARC v. Rockefeller, parents of residents at
the Willow Brook State School in Staten Island, New York
filed suit to end the appalling conditions at that
institution. A television broadcast from the facility
outraged the general public. Eventually, thousands of
people were moved into community-based living.
Disabled in Action demonstrated in New York City,
protesting Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Led by
Judy Heumann, eighty activists staged a sit-in on Madison
Avenue, stopping traffic. A flood of letters and protest
calls were made.
Demonstrations were held by disabled activists in
Washington, D.C. to protest Nixon’s veto of the
Rehabilitation Act. Among the demonstrators are Disabled
in Action, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National
Paraplegia Foundation and others.
The Commonwealth of Virginia ceased its sterilization
program. 8300 individuals never received justice regarding
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed. Sections 501,
503 and 504 prohibited discrimination in federal programs
and services and all other programs or services receiving
federal funds. Key language in the Rehabilitation Act,
found in Section 504, states “No otherwise qualified
handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely
by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the
participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be
subjected to discrimination under any program or activity
receiving federal financial assistance.”
Handicap parking stickers were introduced in Washington,
The first Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric
Oppression was held at the University of Detroit.
The Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized federal funds for
construction of curb cuts.
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance
Board established under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
enforced the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities advocated
for passage of what became the Developmentally Disabled
Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 and the
Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.
The Disabled Women's Coalition was founded at the
University of California, Berkeley by Susan Sygall,
Deborah Kaplan, Kitty Cone, Corbett O'Toole and Susan
Atlantis Community, Denver, Colorado was founded by Wade
Blank who relocated adults with severe disabilities from
nursing homes to apartments.
The Boston Center for Independent Living was established.
Halderman v. Pennhurst, filed in Pennsylvania on behalf of
the residents of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital
highlighted conditions at state schools for people with
mental retardation. It became a precedent in the battle
for deinstitutionalization, establishing a right to
community services for people with developmental
The first Client Assistant Project (CAP) was established
to advocate for clients of state vocational rehabilitation
North Carolina passed a statewide building code with
stringent access requirements. Drafted by access advocate
Ronald Mace, the code became a model for effective
architectural access legislation in other states.
Barrier Free Environments, founded by Ronald Mace,
advocated for accessibility in buildings and products.
The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142)
required free, appropriate public education in the least
restrictive setting. This Act was later renamed The
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The Developmental Disability Bill of Rights Act
established protection and advocacy (P & A) services.
The Community Services Act created the Head Start Program.
It stipulated that at least 10% of program openings were
to be reserved for disabled children.
The Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights
Act provided federal funds to programs serving people with
developmental disabilities and outlined a series of rights
for those who are institutionalized.
The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities was
founded. It became the leading national cross-disability
rights organization of the 1970s.
The Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH)
was founded by special education professionals in response
to PARC v. Pennsylvania (1972) and other
right-to-education cases. This organization called for the
end of aversive behavior modification and the closing of
all residential institutions for people with disabilities.
U.S. Supreme Court ruled in O’Connor v. Donaldson that
people cannot be institutionalized in a psychiatric
hospital against their will unless they are determined to
be a threat to themselves or to others.
Parent and Training Information Centers were developed to
help parents of disabled children exercise their rights
under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of
Ed Roberts was appointed Director of the California
Department of Rehabilitation. He established nine
independent living centers based on the Berkeley CIL
The Western Center on Law and the Handicapped was founded
in Los Angeles.
Centers for independent living are established in Houston
The Federal Communications Commission authorized reserving
Line 21 on televisions for closed captions.
Higher Education Act of 1972 amendment provided services
to physically disabled students entering college.
Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, Inc. v. Coleman was
known as the Transbus lawsuit. Disabled in Action of
Pennsylvania, the American Coalition of Cerebral Palsy
Associations and others were represented by the Public
Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. They filed suit to
require that all buses purchased by public transit
authorities receiving federal funds meet Transbus
specifications (making them wheelchair accessible).
Disabled in Action, New York City picketed the United
Cerebral Palsy telethon calling telethons “demeaning and
paternalistic shows which celebrate and encourage pity.”
The Disability Rights Center was founded in Washington,
D.C. Sponsored by Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of
Responsive Law, it specialized in consumer protection for
people with disabilities.
The Westside Center for Independent Living, Los Angeles
was one of the first nine independent living centers
established by Ed Roberts, Director of the California
Department of Rehabilitation.
Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and
Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for
Section 504. After an ultimatum and deadline,
demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5th.
The sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S.
Department of Health, Education and Welfare lasted until
May 1st. More than 150 demonstrators refused to disband.
This action became the longest sit-in at a federal
building to date.
Section 504 regulations were issued.
Max Cleland was appointed head of the U.S. Veterans
Administration. He was the first severely disabled and
youngest person to fill that position.
The White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals drew
3,000 disabled people to discuss federal policy toward
people with disabilities. It resulted in numerous
recommendations and acted as a catalyst for grassroots
disability rights organizing.
Legal Services Corporation Act Amendments added
financially needy people with disabilities to the list of
those eligible for publicly funded legal services.
In Lloyd v. Regional Transportation Authority, the U.S.
Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit ruled that individuals
have a right to sue under Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and that public transit
authorities must provide accessible service.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, in Snowden v.
Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority undermined
this decision by ruling that authorities need to provide
access only to “handicapped persons other than those
confined to wheelchairs.”
American Disabled for Public Transit (ADAPT) was founded.
It held a transit bus hostage in Denver, Colorado. A
yearlong civil disobedience campaign followed to force the
Denver Transit Authority to purchase wheelchair
The Adaptive Environments Center was founded in Boston.
Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978
established the first federal funding for
consumer-controlled independent living centers and created
the National Council of the Handicapped under the U.S.
Department of Education.
On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental
Health System by Judi Chamberlin became the standard text
of the psychiatric survivor movement.
The National Center for Law and the Deaf was founded in
Handicapping America by Frank Bowe was a comprehensive
review of the policies and attitudes denying equal
citizenship to people with disabilities. It became a
standard text of the general disability rights movement.
Part B funds created ten new centers for independent
living across the U.S.
Vermont Center for Independent Living, the first statewide
independent living center in the U.S., was founded by
representatives of Vermont disability groups.
In Southeastern Community College v. Davis, the Supreme
Court ruled that under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973, programs receiving federal funds must make
“reasonable modifications” to enable the participation of
otherwise qualified disabled individuals. This decision
was the Court’s first ruling on Section 504 establishing
reasonable modification as an important principle in
disability rights law.
The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF),
founded in Berkeley, California, became the nation’s
leading disability rights legal advocacy center. It
participated in landmark litigation and lobbying of the
1980s and 1990s.
The National Disabled Women's Educational Equity Project,
Berkeley, California, was established by Corbett O'Toole.
Based at DREDF, the Project administered the first
national survey on disability and gender and conducted the
first national Conference on Disabled Women's Educational
Equity held in Bethesda, Maryland.
Social Security Amendments, Section 1619 was passed.
Designed to address work disincentives within the Social
Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security
Income programs, other provisions mandated a review of
Social Security recipients. This led to the termination of
benefits of hundreds of thousands of people with
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
authorized the U.S. Justice Department to file civil suits
on behalf of residents of institutions whose rights were
Disabled Peoples’ International was founded in Singapore
with participation of advocates from Canada and the United
The Reagan Administration threatened to amend or revoke
regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 and the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act of 1975. Disability rights advocates Patrisha Wright (DREDF)
and Evan Kemp, Jr. (Disability Rights Center) led an
intense lobbying and grassroots campaign that generated
more than 40,000 cards and letters. After three years, the
Reagan Administration abandoned its attempts to revoke or
amend the regulations.
The Reagan Administration terminated the Social Security
benefits of hundreds of thousands of disabled recipients.
Distressed by this action, several disabled people
committed suicide. A variety of groups including the
Alliance of Social Security Disability Recipients and the
Ad Hoc Committee on Social Security Disability fought
The International Year of Disabled Persons began. During
the year, governments were encouraged to sponsor programs
bringing people with disabilities into the mainstream of
The parents of “Baby Doe” in Bloomington, Indiana were
advised by their doctors to decline surgery to unblock
their newborn’s esophagus because the baby had Down's
syndrome. Although disability rights activists tried to
intervene, “Baby Doe” starved to death before legal action
The Telecommunications for the Disabled Act mandated
telephone access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people at
public places like hospitals and police stations. All
coin-operated telephones had to be hearing aid-compatible
by January 1985. The Act called for state subsidies for
production and distribution of TDD’s.
The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) was
founded by Max Starkloff, Charlie Carr and Marca Bristo.
A national ADAPT action was held for accessible
transportation in Denver, Colorado at the American Public
Transit Association (APTA) Convention.
The World Institute on Disability (WID) was established by
Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann and Joan Leon.
The Disabled Children’s Computer Group (DCCG) was founded
in Berkeley, California.
The National Council on the Handicapped called for
Congress to include persons with disabilities in the Civil
Rights Act of 1964 and other civil and voting rights
legislation and regulations.
The United Nations expanded the International Year of
Disabled Persons to the International Decade of Disabled
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) was founded by the
President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped to
provide information to businesses with disabled employees.
Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act provided for the
Client Assistance Program (CAP), an advocacy program for
consumers of rehabilitation and independent living
Ted Kennedy, Jr., spoke from the platform of the
Democratic National Convention on disability rights.
The “Baby Jane Doe” case involved an infant being denied
needed medical care because of her disability. The
litigation argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Bowen
v. American Hospital Association resulted in the passage
of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments
The U.S. Supreme Court, Irving Independent School District
v. Tatro ruled that school districts are required under
the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 to
provide intermittent catheterization performed by the
school nurse or a nurse’s aide as a “related service” to a
disabled student. School districts can no longer refuse to
educate a disabled child because they might need such
The National Council of the Handicapped became an
independent federal agency.
The Social Security Disability Reform Act was passed in
response to the complaints of hundreds of thousands of
people whose social security disability benefits were
terminated. The law required that payment of benefits and
health insurance coverage continue for terminated
recipients until they exhausted their appeals.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped
Act mandated that polling places be accessible.
The Mental Illness Bill of Rights Act required states to
provide protection and advocacy services for people with
Final legal hearings on eugenics were held in the
Commonwealth of Virginia. No financial settlement was
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Burlington School
Committee v. Department of Education that schools must pay
the expenses of disabled children enrolled in private
programs during litigation under the Education for All
Handicapped Children Act of 1975, if the courts ruled that
such placement is needed to provide the child with an
appropriate education in the least restrictive
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in City of Cleburne v.
Cleburne Living Center that localities cannot use zoning
laws to prohibit group homes for people with developmental
disabilities from opening in a residential area solely
because its residents are disabled.
The International Polio Network, St. Louis, Missouri,
founded by Gini Laurie, began advocating for recognition
of post-polio syndrome.
The National Association of Psychiatric Survivors was
Toward Independence, a report of the National Council on
the Handicapped, outlined the legal status of Americans
with disabilities and documented the existence of
discrimination. It cited the need for federal civil rights
legislation (eventually passed as the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990).
Concrete Change, a grassroots organization advocating
accessible housing, was organized in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act
was passed allowing recipients of Supplemental Security
Income and Social Security Disability Insurance to retain
benefits, particularly medical coverage, after they obtain
The Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals
Act was passed setting up protection and advocacy (P & A)
agencies for people who are in-patients or residents of
mental health facilities.
Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 defined supported
employment as a “legitimate rehabilitation outcome.”
Justin Dart, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services
Administration, was forced to resign after he testified to
Congress that “an inflexible federal system, like the
society it represents, still contains a significant
portion of individuals who have not yet overcome obsolete,
paternalistic attitudes toward disability…”
The Alliance for Technology Access was founded in
California by the Disabled Children’s Computer Group and
the Apple Computer Office of Special Education.
The Air Carrier Access Act was passed prohibiting airlines
from refusing to serve people simply because they are
disabled and from charging people with disabilities more
for airfare than non-disabled travelers.
The Civil Rights Restoration Act counteracted bad case law
by clarifying Congress’ original intention. Under the
Rehabilitation Act, discrimination in any program or
service that receives federal funding – not just the part
which actually and directly receives the funding – is
The Fair Housing Act amendments prohibited housing
discrimination against people with disabilities and
families with children. It also provided for architectural
accessibility of certain new housing units, renovation of
existing units and accessibility modifications at the
The "Deaf President Now" protest was held at Gallaudet
University. I. King Jordan became the first deaf president
of Gallaudet University.
ADAPT protested inaccessible Greyhound buses.
The Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals with
Disabilities was passed authorizing federal funding to
state projects designed to facilitate access to assistive
The Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment
of Americans with Disabilities was created by Rep. Major
R. Owens, with Justine Dart and Elizabeth Boggs,
co-chairs. The Task Force began building grassroots
support for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Congress overturned Ronald Reagan’s veto of the Civil
Rights Restoration Act of 1987.
In Honig v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the
stay-put rule established under the Education for All
Handicapped Children Act of 1975. School authorities
cannot expel or suspend or otherwise move disabled
children from the setting agreed upon in the child’s
Individualized Education Program (IEP) without a due
In ADAPT v. Skinner, the Federal Appeals Court ruled that
federal regulations requiring that transit authorities
spend only 3% of their budgets on access are arbitrary and
The original version of the American with Disabilities Act
was introduced in 1988. It was redrafted and reintroduced
in Congress. Disability organizations across the country
advocated on its behalf (Patrisha Wright, Marilyn Golden,
Liz Savage, Justin Dart Jr., and Elizabeth Boggs, among
The Center for Universal Design (originally the Center for
Accessible Housing) was founded by Ronald Mace in Raleigh,
Mouth: The Voice of Disability Rights began publication in
Rochester, New York.
The President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped
was renamed the President’s Committee on Employment of
People with Disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by George
W. Bush. The Act provided comprehensive civil rights
protection for people with disabilities. Closely modeled
after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was
the most sweeping disability rights legislation in
history. It mandated that local, state and federal
governments and programs be accessible, that businesses
with more than 15 employees make “reasonable
accommodations” for disabled workers and that public
accommodations such as restaurants and stores make
“reasonable modifications” to ensure access for disabled
members of the public. The act also mandated access in
public transportation, communication, and in other areas
of public life.
Sam Skinner, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, issued
regulations mandating lifts on buses.
American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT)
organized The Wheels of Justice campaign in Washington,
D.C. which drew hundreds of disabled people to support the
Americans with Disabilities Act. Activists occupying the
Capitol Rotunda were arrested when they refuse to leave.
The Committee of Ten Thousand was founded to advocate for
people with hemophilia who were infected with HIV/AIDS
through tainted blood products.
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act
was passed to help communities cope with the HIV/AIDS
American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT)
changed its focus to advocating for personal assistance
services, changing its name to American Disabled for
Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT).
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was amended
and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act were infused with the
philosophy of independent living.
The American Indian Disability Legislation Project was
established to collect data on Native American disability
rights laws and regulations.
A legal case of four men convicted of sexual assault and
conspiracy for raping a 17-year old mentally disabled
woman in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, highlighted the
widespread sexual abuse of people with developmental
Robert Williams was appointed Commissioner of the
Administration on Developmental Disabilities. He is the
first developmentally disabled person to be named the
Holland v. Sacramento City Unified School District
affirmed the right of disabled children to attend public
school classes with non-disabled children. The ruling was
a major victory in the ongoing effort to ensure
enforcement of IDEA.
Maria Rantho, South African Federation of Disabled
People’s Vice-Chair, was elected to Nelson Mandela’s
Parliament in South Africa. Ronah Moyo, head of the
women’s wing of the Zimbabwe Federation of Disabled
People, was elected to Robert Mugabe’s Parliament in
Zimbabwe. Both women felt they faced an uphill struggle
with legislators who were ignorant of the needs of people
The First International Symposium on Issues of Women with
Disabilities was held in Beijing, China in conjunction
with the Fourth World Conference on Women.
ACLIFM, an organization of people with disabilities in
Cuba, held its first international conference on
disability rights in Havana, Cuba.
Justice for All was organized by Justin Dart and others in
When Billy Broke His Head…and Other Tale of Wonder
premiered on PBS. The film is about the disability rights
The American Association of People with Disabilities was
founded in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit in Helen L. v.
Snider ruled that continued institutionalization of a
disabled Pennsylvania woman, when not medically necessary
and where there is the option of home care, was a
violation of her rights under the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990. Disability rights advocates
perceived this ruling as a landmark decision regarding the
rights of people in nursing homes to personal assistance
Sandra Jensen, a member of People First, was denied a
heart-lung transplant by the Stanford University School of
Medicine because she has Down’s syndrome. After pressure
from disability rights activists, Stanford U School of
Medicine administrators reversed their decision. In 1996,
Jensen became the first person with Down's syndrome to
receive a heart-lung transplant.
Congress passed legislation eliminating more than 150,000
disabled children from Social Security rolls along with
persons with alcohol and drug dependencies.
Not Dead Yet, formed by disabled advocates to oppose those
who support assisted suicide for people with disabilities,
focused on the idea of rationing health care to people
with severe disabilities and imposition of “do not
resuscitate” (DNR) orders for disabled people in
hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.
In Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg, the
Supreme Court validated the state prohibition on
physician-assisted suicide, deciding that the issue is
within the jurisdiction of the states.
The Persian Gulf War Veterans Act was passed.
In Bragdon v. Abbott, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that
under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the definition
of disability includes asymptomatic HIV.
In Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, the
Supreme Court decided that the Americans with Disabilities
Act includes state prisons.
In Carolyn C. Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems
Corporation, et. al., the Supreme Court decided that
people receiving Social Security disability benefits are
protected against discrimination under the Americans with
Disabilities Act if and when they are able to return to
In Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W., the Supreme Court decided
that individuals with disabilities must be offered
services in the most integrated setting.
In three employment cases (Sutton et. al. v. United Air
Lines, Inc., Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. and
Albertsons, Inc. v. Kirkingburg) the Supreme Court decided
that individuals whose conditions do not substantially
limit any life activity and are easily correctable are not
disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Works Incentives Improvement Act (Ticket to Work)
became law, allowing those who require health care
benefits to work.
The Commonwealth of Virginia House of Delegates approved a
resolution expressing regret for its eugenics practices
between 1924 and 1979.
Author Unknown. A Chronology of the Disability Rights
Author Unknown. Significant Dates and Events in Disability
Fleischer, D. Z., & Zames, F. (2001). The disability
rights movement: From charity to confrontation.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Francis, L. P., & Silvers, A. (Eds.). (2000) Americans
with disabilities: Exploring implications of the law for
individuals and institutions. New York: Routledge.