The Power of Advocacy & Awareness: Key Moments in the Disability Rights Movement

Members of the disability community have paved the way for the rights and protections that many of us enjoy today. The Disability Rights Movement is an important part of U.S. history, but it’s one that’s too often overlooked. Below, we take a brief glance into the events that shaped the era as we construct our own Disability Rights Movement timeline. Join us as we learn how this movement has impacted history for the better.


What is The Disability Rights Movement?

The Disability Rights Movement is a social, political, and cultural movement focused on the rights and experiences of persons with disabilities. More specifically, the movement aimed to secure equal rights for the disability community.

While the main goal of the movement focused on a specific community, many activist groups saw overlap in their members and rhetoric. People of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and others were integral parts of the movement and changes that predated it.

Early Achievements (1900s-1950s)

  • Pre-1900s: People with disabilities have existed for as long as those without them. But as far as historical records show, organizations focused on their experiences didn’t pop up until the 1800s. Early disability groups paved the way for formal, organized efforts later on.
  • 1930s: The Great Depression rocks the nation. Despite this, The League of the Physically Handicapped organized for the first time.
  • 1940s: A new group, We Are Not Alone, forms to support patients transitioning from hospitals to the community. In 1948, President Harry Truman forms the National Institute of Mental Health 

The Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1970s)

The mid-20th century was the era of progress for many minority groups, including the disability community. As a culture of change swept the nation, new doors to progress opened up. With the help of members of other underrepresented communities, disability rights activists ushered in changes that would revolutionize the nation.

Disability Rights Movement: Major Events

  • 1950s: Local groups join forces to create the National Association for Retarded Children (NARC). 
  • 1960s: The U.S. Congress passes over 50 new pieces of legislation protecting disability rights. From 1960 to 1963, President Kennedy drives progress even further by organizing several planning committees focused on treating and understanding disabilities. Around the same time, The Center for Independent Living begins working to support the community.
  • 1970s: Several new sections of the Rehabilitation Act are passed. The new sections focus on addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, the additions aren’t signed until 1977, following a period of nationwide protest. By 1975, The Education of All Handicapped Children is passed to protect the right to quality public school education.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

By 1990, emotions were high – the much-anticipated Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a piece of legislation that would outline and protect the rights of persons with disabilities, had stalled.

As public transit companies battled over what they deemed “strict” accessibility regulations, a group of individuals with disabilities decided to take action. The group took to the Capitol Building, tossed aside their walkers, crutches, and wheelchairs, and began to ascend the steps.

The event, known as the “Capitol Crawl,” was meant to demonstrate the daily struggles protestors faced due to barriers. The image of the group members dragging themselves up shocked the nation, highlighting the need for immediate accessibility. 

As a result, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into effect the very same year. 2008 saw the introduction of The ADA Amendments Act, which built upon earlier legal achievements.

Unlock the Power of Self-Advocacy

If there’s one thing the Disability Rights Movement has taught us, it’s the power of advocacy for ourselves and others. At NeuroNav, we care about uplifting the disability community with helpful resources and tailored support.

Our goal is to help our clients connect with the information they need to achieve their goals. We encourage you to contact us today to learn more about our services.

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