October is Disability History Month. This is a month-long celebration of the contributions and work that people with disabilities have done over the past 200 years for the disability rights movement. The main theme of observing disability history is how disability led advocacy groups have been a catalyst for change.
Disability activism began in the 1800’s. However, it did not gain any real traction until the mid 1900’s when the parent organization, NARC was formed. This organization gained 10,000 members over the course of one decade. In addition to this, in the early 1960’s the nation became more aware of Disability issues when President Kennedy organized several planning committees to treat and research disabilities. In the present day, Self-Advocacy groups such as People First continue the movement.
From then until the 90’s, people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities fought to get over 50 more pieces of legislation passed. One of the most prominent pieces of legislation that was passed was one that affirmed the right of people with disabilities to have a public education.
Advocacy groups in colleges became more popular in the sixties when two disabled students, Ed Roberts and John Hessler, fought to create programs at the University of California Berkeley that were inclusive. For example, there work led to the formation of the Center for Independent Living, which allowed for disabled students to no longer have to live in nearby hospitals while attending school. This program led to similar programs and advocacy groups being formed in other colleges around the nation.
Disability advocacy in the 20th century has been linked with LGBTQ+ advocacy. Up until the 70’s, being LGBTQ+ was seen as a disability. Additionally, some LGBTQ+ advocates supported the disability rights movement and vice versa. Many of these advocates bonded over their common goal of achieving equality.
In the 90’s activists protested against transportation companies’ reluctance to make their vehicles such as subways, accessible to those with physical disabilities. To demonstrate the physical barriers that exclusive designs have on people with disabilities, the protesters threw away their crutches, wheelchairs, and walkers and crawled up a set of stairs in front of the United States Capitol.
This protest was especially important because it led to one of the most important moments in Disability History, the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with Disabilities.