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Disability rights movement

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Disability rights movement

Alternative access to the subway in Japan
Floor marker for disabled people in Narita Airport, Japan
Although the concept of inclusion incorporates many of the fundamentals of the ideas present in disability rights, inclusion is a distinct social movement and should not be conflated with disability rights more generally.

The disability rights movement is the movement to secure [1][2]

For people with physical disabilities funding, accessibility and safety are primary issues that this movement works to reform. Access to public areas such as city streets and public buildings and restrooms are some of the more visible changes brought about in recent decades. A noticeable change in some parts of the world is the installation of elevators, automatic doors, wide doors and corridors, transit lifts, wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, and the elimination of unnecessary steps where ramps and elevators are not available, allowing people in wheelchairs and with other mobility impairments to use public sidewalks and public transit more easily and more safely.

For people with disabilities funding is very hard to receive. Over the past couple years the government has reworked the program to be able to hand out more disability checks but they don't make it simple. Funding could be decreased with equal opportunities to transportation and jobs. Because over the last decade that is not the case the disabled population is forced to go through a long system to receive funding and sit on waiting lists for upwards of 15 years before allowed to receive a check. Until the disabled population is able to receive government funding easily or are giving equal opportunities this pattern will continue.


  • Overview 1
  • History 2
    • In the UK 2.1
    • In the US 2.2
  • Exhibitions and collections 3
  • See also 4
    • Lawsuits 4.1
  • External links 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7


Advocates for the rights of people with developmental disabilities focus their efforts on gaining acceptance in the workforce and in everyday activities and events from which they might have been excluded in the past. Unlike many of the leaders in the physical disability rights community, self-advocacy has been slow in developing for people with developmental disabilities. As a result, much of the work done by the Disability Rights Movement was completed by allies, or those without disabilities but with a strong connection to someone with disabilities. Parents, friends, and siblings fought for education and acceptance when their loved ones with cognitive disabilities could not.[3] Public awareness of the civil rights movement for this population remains limited, and the stereotyping of people with developmental disabilities as non-contributing citizens who are dependent on others remains common. Today, the movement has a more social focus to increase this public awareness, as evidenced by the "R-Word" Campaign, in which they try to eliminate the colloquial use of the word "retard."[4]

Advocates for the rights of people with mental health disabilities focus mainly on self-determination, and an individual’s ability to live independently.[5]

The right to have an independent life, using paid assistant care instead of being institutionalized, if the individual wishes, is a major goal of the disability rights movement, and is the main goal of the similar independent living and self-advocacy movements, which are most strongly associated with people with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders. These movements have supported people with disabilities to live as more active participants in society.[6]

Access to education and employment have also been a major focus of the disability rights movement. Adaptive technologies, enabling people to work jobs they could not have previously, help create access to jobs and economic independence. Access in the classroom has helped improve education opportunities and independence for people with disabilities.

Freedom from abuse, neglect, and violations of patients' rights are also important goals of the disability rights movement. Abuse and neglect includes inappropriate seclusion and restraint, inappropriate use of force by staff and/or providers, threats, harassment and/or retaliation by staff or providers, failure to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, and/or medical and mental health care, and/or failure to provide a clean and safe living environment, as well as other issues which pose a serious threat to the physical and psychological well-being of a person with a disability. Violations of patients' rights include failure to obtain informed consent for treatment, failure to maintain the confidentiality of treatment records, and inappropriate restriction of the right to communicate and associate with others, as well as other restrictions of rights.

As a result of the work done through the disability rights movement, significant disability rights legislation was passed in the 1970s through the 1990s in the U.S.[7]


In the UK

Disability rights activist outside Scottish Parliament, 30 March 2013

In the United Kingdom, following extensive activism by people with disabilities over several decades, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) was passed. This made it unlawful in the United Kingdom to discriminate against people with disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides support for this Act. Equivalent legislation exists in Northern Ireland, which is enforced by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

Following the introduction of the "Bedroom Tax" in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, disability activists have played a significant role in the development of Bedroom Tax protests.[8]

In the US

The disability rights movement began in the 1960s,[9] encouraged by the examples of the African-American civil rights and women’s rights movements.[10]

It was at this time that disability rights advocacy began to have a cross-disability focus. People with different kinds of disabilities (physical and mental handicaps, along with visual- and hearing-impairments) and different essential needs came together to fight for a common cause.[2]

In 1948, a watershed for the movement was the proof of the existence of physical and program barriers. The proof was provided as a specification for barrier free usable facilities for the handicap. The specifications provided the minimum requirements for barrier free physical and program access. An example of barriers are; providing only steps to enter buildings; lack of maintenance of walkways; locations not connected with public transit; lack of visual and hearing communications ends up segregating individuals with disabilities from independent, participation, and opportunities. The ANSI - Barrier Free Standard (phrase coined by Dr. Timothy J. Nugent, the lead investigator) called "ANSI A117.1, Making Buildings Accessible to and Usable by the Physically Handicapped", provides the indisputable proof that the barriers exist. It is based on disability ergonomic research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign campus from 1946 to 1986. The research was codified in the ANSI A117.1 standard in 1961, 1971, 1980, and 1986. The standard is the outcome of physical therapists, bio-mechanical engineers, and individuals with disabilities who developed and participated in over 40 years of research. Easter Seals Education Committee Chairman Harold Wilke was tasked with assembling that diverse group in 1959. The standard provides the criteria for modifying programs and the physical site to provide independence. Applying the researched standards criteria presents reliable access and non-hazardous conditions. In October 2011 the standard turned 50 years old. The standard has been emulated globally since its introduction in Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia, and Canada, in the early 1960s.[11]

One of the most important developments of the disability rights movement was the growth of the

  1. ^ a b Alex Szele. "Abuse, Neglect and Patient Rights by the Disability Rights Wisconsin website". Disability Rights Wisconsin. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Bagenstos, Samuel (2099). Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement. New Haven: Yale University Press.  
  3. ^ "The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movements." The Virginia Navigator, 23 Mar. 2013. Web.
  4. ^ "R-word - Spread the Word to End the Word". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Barnartt and Scotch, Sharon N. and Richard (2001). Disability Protests: Contentious Politics 1970-1999. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.  
  6. ^ a b Johnson, Roberta Ann (1999). Mobilizing the Disabled, in Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties, pp. 25–45. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield.  
  7. ^ a b c d Fleischer, Doris (2001). The Disability Rights Movement. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.  
  8. ^ Wynne-Jones, Ros (17 July 2013). "Bedroom tax protesters deliver letters on devastating effect on disabled people's lives". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  9. ^ a b  
  10. ^ Shapiro, Joseph P. (1993). No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. Times Books.  
  11. ^ Timothy J. Nugent Papers, 1939-2007 | University of Illinois Archives
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b "The Regents of the University of California. 2008. "The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement." Berkeley, CA: The University of California Berkeley". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "Disability History Timeline". Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Independent Living Management.  
  15. ^ "Concord Special Education Parent Advisory Committee website, article title Concord Special Education Parent Advisory Committee, Section 504". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  16. ^ "Disability Social History Project, article title Famous (and not-so-famous) People with Disabilities". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  17. ^ a b "The Inaugural International Disability Pride Parade Unified in Pride Sunday, July 18, 2004 Chicago, Illinois". Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c "Disability Pride Fast Becoming Genuine Cause for Celebration". Retrieved July 11, 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Disability Rights Movement". National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 


  • Bagenstos, Samuel. Law and the Contradictions of the Disability Rights Movement (Yale University Press, 2009). ISBN 978-0-300-12449-1
  • Barnartt, Sharon N. and Scotch, Richard. Disability Protests: Contentious Politics 1970-1999 (Gallaudet University Press, 2001) ISBN 978-1-56368-112-7
  • Colker, Ruth and Milani, Adam. Everyday Law for Individuals with Disabilities (Paradigm Publishers, 2005). ISBN 978-1-59451-145-5
  • Fleischer, Doris Zames and Zames, Frieda. The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation (Temple University Press, 2nd Edition, 2011). ISBN 978-1-4399-0743-6
  • Johnson, Mary and The Ragged Edge Online Community. Disability Awareness - do it right! Your all-in-one how-to guide (The Advocado Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0-9721189-1-0
  • Johnson, Roberta Ann. "Mobilizing the Disabled.," in Social Movements of the Sixties and Seventies, edited by Jo Freeman (Longman, 1983), pp. 82–100; reprinted in Waves of Protest: Social Movements Since the Sixties edited by Jo Freeman and Victoria Johnson (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), pp. 25–45. ISBN 978-0-8476-8748-0
  • Longmore, Paul, K. and Umansky, Laurie, editors, The New Disability History: American Perspectives (New York University Press, 2001). ISBN 978-0-8147-8564-5
  • O'Brien, Ruth. Crippled Justice: The History of Modern Disability Policy in the Workplace (University Of Chicago Press, 2001). ISBN 978-0-226-61659-9
  • Pelka, Fred. The ABC Clio Companion to the Disability Rights Movement (ABC-Clio, 1997). ISBN 978-0-87436-834-5
  • Pelka, Fred. What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement (Amherst, Boston MA: University of Massachusetts Press 2012). ISBN 978-1-55849-919-5
  • The Regents of the University of California. The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement (Berkeley, CA: The University of California Berkeley, 2001). Web. Copyright © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Document maintained on server: by The Bancroft Library.
  • Shapiro, Joseph P. No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (Times Books, 1993). ISBN 978-0-8129-2412-1
  • Stroman, Duane. The Disability Rights Movement: From Deinstitutionalization to Self-Determination (University Press of America, 2003). ISBN 978-0-7618-2480-0

Further reading

  • Disability Rights and Rehabilitation by Einar Helander
  • Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
  • The Ed Roberts Campus
  • Independent Living Resources
  • National Organization on Disability
  • The Rolling Rains Report on Travel, Disability, and Universal Design A blog positioning inclusive consumer activities such as travel within the disability rights movement through the use of the movement's design philosophy Universal Design.
  • Society for Disability Studies
  • Lives Worth Living site for Independent Lens on PBS
  • The Disability Rights Movement An online exhibition from the National Museum of American History
  • Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth

External links


See also

To mark the 10th anniversary of the wheelchairs. The exhibition was designed for maximum accessibility. Web-based kiosks - prototypes for a version that will eventually be available to museums and other cultural institutions - provided alternate formats to experience the exhibition. The exhibition was open from July 6, 2000 to July 23, 2001.[19]

Exhibitions and collections

The first Disability Pride March in the United States was held in Boston in 1990. A second Disability Pride March was held in Boston in 1991. There were no subsequent Disability Pride Marches/Parades for many years, until Chicago on Sunday, July 18, 2004.[17][18] It was funded with $10,000 in seed money that Sarah Triano received in 2003 as part of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.[18] According to Triano, fifteen hundred people attended the parade.[18] Yoshiko Dart was the parade marshal.[17]

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and it 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 American history. It mandated that local, state, and federal governments and programs be accessible, that employers with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities and not discriminate against otherwise qualified workers with disabilities, and that public accommodations such as restaurants and stores not discriminate against people with disabilities and that they 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.

Another significant protest related to disability rights was the Deaf President Now protest by the Gallaudet University students in Washington, D.C. in March 1988. The 8-day (March 6 – March 13) demonstration and occupation and lock-out of the school began when the Board of Trustees appointed a new hearing President, Elisabeth Zinser, over two Deaf candidates. The students’ primary grievance was that the university, which was dedicated to the education of the hearing-impaired, had never had a Deaf president, someone representative of them. Of the protesters’ four demands, the main one was the resignation of the current president and the appointment of a Deaf one. The student demonstration consisted of about 2,000 participants who were not just students. The protests not only took place on campus, but they also took it to government buildings and marched through the streets. In the end, all the students’ demands were met and I. King Jordan was appointed the first Deaf President of the university.[7]

In 1978 disability rights activists in Denver, Colorado, organized by the Atlantis Community, held a sit-in and blockade of the Denver Regional Transit Authority buses in 1978. They were protesting the fact that city’s transit system was completely inaccessible for the physically disabled. This action proved to be just the first in a series of civil disobedience demonstrations that lasted for a year until the Denver Transit Authority finally bought buses equipped with wheelchair lifts. In 1983, Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) was responsible for another civil disobedience campaign also in Denver that lasted seven years. They targeted the American Public Transport Association in protest of inaccessible public transportation; this campaign ended in 1990 when bus lifts for people using wheelchairs were required nationwide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.[13]

Another crucial turning point was the nationwide sit-in in 1977 of government buildings operated by [16] The first day of protests marked the first of a 25-day sit-in. Close to 120 disability activists and protesters occupied the HEW building. Califano finally signed on April 28, 1977. This protest was significant not only because its goal was achieved, but also because it was the foremost concerted effort between people of different disabilities coming together in support of legislation that affected the overall disability population, rather than only specific groups.[5][7] Prior to the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act was the most important disability rights legislation in the United States.[6]

In 1973 the (American) Rehabilitation Act became law; 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 [sic] 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.”[13][14] This was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities.[15]

Unfortunately for those with cognitive disabilities, their disability made it more difficult to be the best expert of their own needs, hindering their ability to self-advocate as their wheelchair-using counterparts could. Self-representation was much more difficult for those who could not articulate their thoughts, leading to their dependence on others to carry on the movement. [12] Similarly, The Architectural Barriers Act was passed in 1968, mandating that federally constructed buildings and facilities be accessible to people with physical disabilities. This act is generally considered to be the first ever-federal disability rights legislation.[2]

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