Much like the women’s 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 1800’s has given way to a society of better accommodation and inclusion. Still, battles are continually fought for full access.

While the exact origin of the disability rights movement can be debated, some historians concur that the movement began in 1817 when The American School of the Deaf launched in Hartford, Connecticut as the very first educational institution to use sign language and cater people with disabilities. The goal of the school was not only to educate but to foster self-reliance. Other key events of the movement included the start of the New England Asylum for the Blind in 1829, the introduction of Braille in 1832, the first patent for a wheelchair issued in 1869 and government-authorized compensation for disabled workers in 1911. Moments like the establishment of the National Employ the Handicapped Week in 1945, the Hill-Burton Act of 1946 which provided federal aid for rehabilitation, the creation of Social Security Disability Insurance in 1950, and Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 which guaranteed people with disabilities could no longer be banned from flights are also pivotal developments.

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

Additional Disability Information