Disability History

Independence Now is proud to launch our Disability History Project. The project’s goal is to highlight important moments, achievements, and pioneers of the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movements. We believe that when we remember the milestones of what came before us, we can better forge our path forward toward full equity and independence.

Pre-1900's
April 8, 1864
Gallaudet University
The Chapel Hall building at Gallaudet University.
President Abraham Lincoln signs a charter authorizing the institution that would become Gallaudet University, the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing, to confer college degrees.

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1930's
January 31, 1939
Ed Roberts Day
Black and white photo of Ed Roberts.
Ed Roberts, Disability Rights Pioneer and the Father of the Independent Living Movement, is born. In 1962, he becomes the first severely disabled student at the University of California at Berkeley. Ed Roberts Day is celebrated annually on his birthday to acknowledge his contributions to the Disabiity Rights Movement.

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1960's
July 2, 1964
Civil Rights Act
President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 surrounded by a group of people including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo courtesy of The National Archives.
The Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination on the basis of race in public accommodations, employment, and federally assisted programs, is signed by President Lyndon Johnson. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 will become a model for subsequent disability rights legislation.

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April 11, 1968
Enactment of the Federal Fair Housing Act
President Lyndon B. Johnson at desk signing the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Surrounded by government officials including Newly elected Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1968 Act expanded on previous acts and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, sex, (and as amended) disability and family status. Title VIII of the Act is also known as the Fair Housing Act (of 1968).

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1970's
1972
The Center for Independent Living
The Center for Independent Living is founded in Berkeley, California. Generally recognized as the world's first independent living center, the formation of the CIL sparks the worldwide independent living movement.

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April 5, 1977
504 Sit-in
Judy Heumann giving a victory speech after the 504 sit-in.
People with disabilities and the disability community occupied federal buildings in the United States in order to push the issuance of long-delayed regulations regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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1980's
September 3, 1982
Katie Beckett Waivers
President Ronald Reagan meets Katie Beckett, along with her parents, Julia and Mark Beckett as the President exits Air Force One on the tarmac of Cedar Rapids Municipal Airport, Iowa, 20 September 1984.
Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, also known as TERFA, is signed by President Ronald Reagan. A TERFA waiver, or Katie Beckett waiver, helps pay for pediatric home care nursing that private insurance does not cover. The waiver is named for Katie Beckett, a three-year-old who had been hospitalized since infancy so that she could receive ventilator assistance at home. Learn more.
1980's
May 7, 1986
National Barrier Awareness Day
Lower portion of person in a wheelchair outdoors on a sunny day crossing from a paved sidewalk to a grassy area that is level with the sidewalk.

The first National Barrier Awareness Day is proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan on May 7, 1986. The day continues to be observed annually to encourage people to break down obstacles responsible for preventing the social integration of persons with disabilities.

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1990's
March 13, 1990
The "Capitol Crawl"
A group of activists led by 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan crawl up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
Over 1,000 people marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to demand that Congress pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. When they arrived in front of the Capitol Building, many of the activists with physical disabilities immediately proceeded to crawl and pull their bodies up all 100 of the Capitol's front steps. Jennifer Keelan, a second grader with cerebral palsy, was videotaped as she pulled herself up the steps, using mostly her hands and arms, saying "I'll take all night if I have to."

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July 26, 1990
Americans with Disabilities Act
President George Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House July 26, 1990. Joining the president are Rev. Harold Wilke, rear left, Evan Kemp, chairman of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, left, Sandra Parrino, chairman of the National Council on Disability; and Justin Dart, chairman of The President's Council on Disabilities. Jefferson Memorial is in background. (AP Photo/Barry Thumma)
President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA is the most comprehensive disability rights legislation in history. Its employment provisions prohibit discrimination in job application procedures, hiring, advancement, termination, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

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June 22, 1999
The Olmstead Decision

On June 22, 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled through Olmstead v. L.C. that states must eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.

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