Disability Rights In The 1960s And 70s
The disabled rights movement intensified. It reached its first pinnacle with the passage of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Act, twice vetoed by President Nixon in 1971 and 1972 for primarily fiscal reasons, was signed by the President in 1973 after significant amendment. However, it was Section 504 , that contained the language that, for the first time, prohibited discrimination of and created rights for disabled persons. Section 504 provides that any program funded by the federal government is prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities.
In 1975, The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities was founded. It was the first disability rights group that was created, governed and administered by disabled individuals, and the first ever national group that pulled together disability groups representing different populations of the disabled.
- Andrew J. Ruzicho, Handicap Discrimination: How to Comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, KF3738 .R89 1977
- Anne Marie C. Hermann and Lucinda A. Walker, Handbook of Employment Rights of the Handicapped: Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, KF3469 .H47 1978
- Fred Pelka, What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement, KF480 .P45 2012
- Ruth Colker, Federal Disability Law in a Nutshell, KF480.Z9 T83 2019
Not Dead Yet: Disability And Assisted Suicide
In the 1990s, debates surrounding assisted suicide and Dr. Jack Kevorkians campaign to assist terminally ill people to end their lives unfurled on the national stage.
The discourse led to the founding of the disability rights group Not Dead Yet.
Tucked into the polarizing conversation was an assumption that people dont want to be disabled, that they feel that being disabled is undignified, said Ms. Cameron, the director of minority outreach for Not Dead Yet. And as a person with disabilities, I totally resent that.
Many advocates link assisted suicide to the eugenics movements of the 1800s which pushed for undesirable traits to be bred out of the gene pool and the Buck v. Bell decision, which allowed doctors to sterilize mental defectives without their consent because, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. famously wrote, three generations of imbeciles are enough. The ruling still stands.
It comes back to that fundamental belief that some people are actually more valuable than other people, Ms. Burch said, and thats core to how ableism functions.
A Brief History Of The Disability Rights Movement
For centuries, people with disabilities were on the fringes of mainstream society. As a class of individuals, they were economically disadvantaged, socially segregated, politically excluded, and almost universally regarded as being less capable than others. In fact, the term handicap is said to have originated from the old practice of people with disabilities holding cap in hand as they begged for a pittance just to survive from one day to the next. For more information about the impact of how we talk about people with disabilities, read Language Matters: Handicapping An Affliction. Those who were not on the streets and who were not cared for by family or other loved ones were placed in institutions. Many spent their lives in such settings where conditions would be considered inhumane by todays standards. You may want to read Rosewood Center: A Demand for Closure, a report about the flawed, illegal and inhumane conditions in a state institution in Maryland. As the result of a series of documented events that date back to 1817, people with disabilities and their families eventually built what is collectively known today as the disability rights movement. For a general timeline of pivotal events that led to the rise of the disability rights movement, which itself includes those with physical, developmental/intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities, read, Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement.
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Dont Mourn For Us: Jim Sinclair And The Neurodiversity Movement
In 1993, Jim Sinclair, one of the founders of Autism Network International, spoke at the International Conference on Autism in Toronto, focusing on a sentiment that was often expressed by parents of autistic children a sense of loss upon learning their child wasnt normal.
You didnt lose a child to autism, said Jim, who prefers not to use gendered pronouns or honorifics. You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence. That isnt the fault of the autistic child who does exist, and it shouldnt be our burden.
Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams, Jim added. But dont mourn for us. We are alive. We are real. And were here waiting for you.
The speech became a foundation for what has become known as the neurodiversity movement, a belief that cognitive differences are part of normal variations of human behavior.
Neurodiversity affirms that everyone deserves to be accepted and included for who they are, Sharon daVanport, the founding executive director of the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network, wrote in an email.
Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement
“Some people may have thought it was undignified for people in wheelchairs to crawl in that manner, but I felt that it was necessary to show the country what kinds of things people with disabilities have to face on a day-to-day basis. We had to be willing to fight for what we believed in.”
Image from the National Museum of American History
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Drawing Inspiration From Rwanda
In this small, East African nation, widely recognized for its innovations and success in the health sector, Rwandan youth with disabilities often face obstacles similar to individuals with disabilities in the US and throughout the world, namely barriers to education and employment. For example, primary school attendance in Rwanda is lower among children with a disability in contrast to children without a disability . This disparity extends to adulthood, evidenced by the far fewer people with disabilities engaged in economic activities than people without disabilities .
As the 2012 Population Census conducted in Rwanda estimated that 182,338 children and young adults between five and 34 years of age were living with a disability, advocates in Rwanda saw an urgency for championing the rights of this ample portion of the Rwandan population. In concordance with other disability rights activists in Rwanda, Bahati Satir Omar was troubled by these statistics. He decided to take action and consequently founded Uwezo Youth Empowerment.
When Bahati lost his sight a few years ago as a university student, he feared his employment prospects post-graduation. He asked himself, Will I get a job? What about others?
These questions motivated Bahati to mobilize his peers to collaborate with both government and non-government actors to secure employment for Rwandan youth with disabilities.
Race Disability And Police Brutality
About 30 to 50 percent of all people killed by law enforcement officers are disabled, according to a study by the Ruderman Family Foundation. As tensions heightened in 2014 alongside the rise of Black Lives Matter, this statistic became especially apparent.
Disability was overlooked in news reports of the deaths of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and many others, said Cyrée Jarelle Johnson, a Black disabled poet and librarian. Instead the term underlying conditions was used to refer to depression, asthma and high blood pressure a euphemism that is bent to make people feel like theyre not murdering disabled people.
Mx. Deerinwater, of Crushing Colonialism, pointed out an even more stark statistic.
The C.D.C. actually says that Native people have the highest rates per capita of police brutality, Mx. Deerinwater said. I want to say that per capita piece is always crucial when we talk about any issue related to Natives because were a little less than 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Confrontations with the police present a real concern for people like Vilissa Thompson, a social worker and the founder of the blog Ramp Your Voice!
Im someone whos hard of hearing and if I cannot hear a command thats given to me by law enforcement, that can make me appear to be noncompliant, she said.
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Can The Disability Rights Movement Achieve The Goal Of Inclusion
Yes. However, in order for both the physical world and digital world to become accessible, we must all play an active role, we must all ask questions, we must all take action and ensure accessible workplaces and digital content.
Inclusion of disabled people isn’t a one person responsibility – it’s everybody’s responsibility. And it’s not a point in time – it’s a life style change.
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Crip Camp shares with insight, clarity, humor, and beauty the experiences of one group of disabled young people and their journey to activism and adulthood, and in doing so, provides an opportunity for all to delve into the rich and complicated history of disability activism, culture, and history.
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The Early Years: 1815
Disability rights started in the early 1800s with both the founding of formal education for the Deaf and the Deaf-Blind communities along with the invention of Braille. However, progress was limited by society’s views of the disabled community to the point that, in 1907, the Eugenic Sterilization Law was enacted in 24 states, which allowed for the sterilization of disabled people.
Historical Roots Of Discrimination
Many cultures of the world have treated persons with disabilities as having less worth than able-bodied people have. The Spartans left deformed babies to die on the hillsides. Lunatic asylums in Europe, in centuries past, imprisoned people with psychiatric disabilities in appalling conditions. The Nazis systematically killed children and adults with mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and other disabilities.
The United States also has a long history of discrimination against persons with disabilities. In colonial days, when the focus was on survival and building new communities in the wilderness, physical stamina and moral worthiness were considered essential. Dependency of any kind was considered a financial burden. As early as 1751, states began opening almshouses, workhouses, insane asylums, and other institutions for the support and maintenance of idiots, lunatics, and other persons of unsound minds. In Illinois today, institutional care still takes the lions share of state funding for services to persons with developmental disabilities.
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The 1970s: Growth Of Consumer Groups
On 9 December 1975, the United Nations issued the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons. The declaration outlined key rights for disabled people and encouraged member countries to enact legislation and promote initiatives to safeguard these rights and opportunities. The declaration was hailed by growing numbers of disability rights activists who advocated for new legal rights to support the advancement and protection of disabled persons in all areas of civic life, including economic security and self-reliance. New offices, councils and committees were established at all levels of government to liaise with disability rights lobbyists and incorporate their concerns into the political decision-making process. At the federal level, the Bureau on Rehabilitation was established in 1979 to coordinate national efforts to promote the interests of disabled people. In 1975, the Ontario government created the disabled-led Ontario Advisory Council for the Physically Handicapped to consult with disabled Ontarians and make recommendations to government. In 1978, for example, the Québec government established the Office des personnes handicapées following the enactment of provincial legislation promoting the social and vocational integration of disabled people.
The History Of Disability Activism
Looking back at how disabled people have fought for change
Who do you think of when you think about revolutionary movements?
What about Paul Hunt? Vic Finklestein? Ken & Maggie Davis?
The names of King, Milk and Davison are instantly recognisable and synonymous with taking critical roles in resisting the oppressions society inflicted upon their communities. The movements they were part of punched through the structures and institutions of oppression and transformed societies forever.
And this is exactly the same for Hunt, Finklestein and the Daviss. For many disabled people, and for disability rights activists in particular the efforts of this small group of activists revolutionised a community long held in chains by discrimination, exploitation and sheer ignorance. Their work didnt begin or end the battle for disability rights but their efforts did break the skin. Their energy collective provided the tools a political critique and a new narrative, self-organising structures, an understanding of movement building and a fearlessness in standing up to those who held power over them that future generations would develop and sharpen with incredible skill.
Before we go further into their story, which begins in the late 60s/early 70s lets take a crash course in exploring the lives for ordinary disabled people in the UK at the time.
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The Need For A Comprehensive Civil Rights Law
With Section 504, the American public began to understand that making accommodations for people with disabilities was a civil right rather than a welfare benefit. It also galvanized a growing disability rights movement that won several other important victories in the 1970s and 1980sincluding legislation that guaranteed a free public education to children with impairments and prohibited housing discrimination on the basis of disabilities.
Yet discrimination persisted. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that the nursing school at Southeastern Community College in Whiteville, North Carolina, was not required by Section 504 to accommodate a hearing-impaired applicant. In other circumstances, regulations were simply not well enforced. For example, transit authorities were left to decide for themselves how accessible they needed to be.
In the mid-1980s, advocates came to the conclusion that the critical next step was to push for comprehensive civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. The National Council on Disability commissioned a report on the need for such a law, while its vice chair Justin Dartwho would later become known as the Godfather of the ADAembarked on a national tour to discuss disability policy with local officials and gather stories of the discrimination people with disabilities faced.
An Introduction To The Disability Rights Movement
Much like the womens liberation movement and the civil rights movement for ethnic minorities, the disabilities rights movement sought equal access, opportunity, consideration and basic human respect and dignity for those born blind, deaf, or with other forms of physical or mental disability. As a result of the movement which spans nearly 200 years, the ostracism and the fringe living which characterized life for people with disabilities in the early 1800s has given way to a society of better accommodation and inclusion. Still, battles are continually fought for full access.
Outsiders believe the movement peaked with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Despite these achievements and many more, however, contemporary rights battles continue over full and convenient access to government facilities and housing. Efforts to cultivate more disabilities rights attorneys and legal backing is a major push of current advocates as lawyers are essential for fighting court battles over education and public rights violations. The current disability rights movement is also centered on advancements in technology and robotics to provide speech, hearing and visual aids as well as the push for better health care, particularly for children with disabilities.
A Chronology of the Disability Rights Movement
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The Ada And The Internet
In 2006, the National Federation of the Blind filed a class-action suit against Target Corporation saying that the companys website was not accessible.
Is sexism OK online? Is racism OK online? asked Haben Girma, a disability rights lawyer who works closely with technology and policy. Most people would answer with an immediate no. I want our society to get to the point where if one asks, Is ableism OK online? the answer is an immediate no.
The court held that the A.D.A. applies to websites that have a connection to a physical place of public accommodation, and that Target must modify its website.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, as social distancing and remote work have made the internet indispensable, tech accessibility has become even more critical.
Schools, health agencies, and hospitals have been posting videos without captions, Ms. Girma said. Images with critical health information, figures and charts, lack image descriptions for blind people.
Milestones And Future Collaboration Opportunities For Disability Rights Activists
Disability rights groups in the US such as the National Center for Learning Disabilities and the National Disabilities Rights Network are awaiting further analysis of the full impacts of the EDs rescindment of the 72 policy memos. During this time, it is essential that the ED consults these advocacy groups to guarantee the 72 policy memos are revised and rendered up-to-date, necessary, and effective. The rescindment of the memos provides the ED with a great opportunity to make improvements to those memos through seeking advice from disability rights activists. Effective collaboration between disability rights advocates and the ED will ensure the memos protect the dignity of and endorse equitable lives for people with disabilities.
We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities.
Professor Stephen W. Hawking
Valencia Lyle is a 20172018 Global Health Corps fellow in Rwanda.
All GHC fellows, partners, and supporters are united in a common belief: health is a human right. There is a role for everyone in the movement for health equity. Join the movement applications for our 20182019 class open December 6.
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