Disability Rights

The systematic denial of the chance to work, joined with restrictions on education, marriage, and most forms of social intercourse, have entailed what amounts to… social death.
Paul Longmore, 2003

Many people who had been injured by the poliovirus became discouraged when they returned home and encountered environmental barriers and discrimination. Some were among the most eloquent and influential leaders of the disability rights movement. Their message has been that disability is a social and civil rights issue, not simply a medical problem.

March of Dimes poster of Cyndi Jones as a poster child in Saint Louis, Missouri, 1956
Courtesy of Cyndi Jones

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Newspaper clipping of Cyndi Jones and another little girl seated in wheelchairs in front of a giant American flag, along with a man wearing a sash that reads, “Tonight I Am a Mother,” Saint Louis Dispatch, 1956

When I was in first grade, my teacher passed out a flyer to encourage everyone to get their polio vaccinations. She said, ‘Cynthia’s photo is on this flyer.’ As the flyers were passed out, to my horror, I saw that the March of Dimes had used one of my poster child photos and above my photo pasted, ‘NOT THIS.’ I can still feel the sense of hurt and betrayal. I was cute, intelligent, even sparkled. How could they say that about me? That day I became an activist.
Cyndi Jones, 2005

Early-20th-century wicker-backed invalid’s wheelchair

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This motorized wheelchair was custom-made for Ed Roberts around 1978. It has a Recaro ergonomic seat, go-cart wheels, and a top speed of eight miles an hour.
Courtesy of Zona Roberts

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Judy Heumann sued the City of New York for denying her a teaching certificate despite her graduation with honors from Long Island University
Courtesy of Post-Polio Health International

Button from Disabled in Action, a cross-disability activist group founded in 1970 in New York City by Judy Heumann
Courtesy of Carr Massi

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Independent Living

The goal [of independent living centers] need not necessarily be employment, but preparation and assistance to live in the larger community rather than in nursing homes or institutions…. In the early 1970s, the first independent living centers were organized in Berkeley, Houston, and Boston.
Paul Longmore, 2003
For centuries, disabled people had been locked up in state-owned or state-subsidized institutions. We will never know how many lives were wasted, how many intellects dulled, how many souls murdered, through that system. The people who began and ran this system were good people who thought of themselves as reformers helping the helpless. But they never asked us what we wanted.
Mark O’Brien, 2003

Paul Longmore burning his book, The Invention of George Washington, in front of the federal building in downtown Los Angeles, 1989
Courtesy of Tom Olin, photographer

I had finally finished my Ph.D. in 1984 but still could not take even a part-time teaching position without jeopardizing the financial aid that paid for my ventilators and in-home assistance … assistance I depended on to work and live and, literally, to breathe…. When I was warned that I would be punished if I received any royalties from my book, something in me reached a breaking point. Years of feeling trapped and degraded by the system came to a head…. I decided that when my book came out in October I would burn it in protest.
Paul Longmore, 2003
In 1968, Hugh Gallagher and Bartlett [Senator Bob Bartlett, D-Alaska] cooked up the Architectural Barriers Act which stated that all buildings ‘designed, built, altered, or leased with Federal funds’ would be required to have ramps, curb-cuts and access to all facilities. It was their radical view that accessibility was a basic civil right for all.
Lorenzo Wilson Milam, 2004
Before Mom found an opportunity to go down to the grade school office to register me, three members of the school board came to visit us …. ‘It has been brought to my attention that you folks have a son in a wheelchair. It is our duty to inform you he will be unable to attend school….’”
Don Kirkendall, 1973

Americans with Disabilities Act

Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a landmark civil rights legislation that creates broad legal protections for people with disabilitiies.

On April 5, 1977, disability rights activists occupied federal offices around the United States. They demanded implementation of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act … that mandated ‘No otherwise qualified handicapped individual … shall … be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.’
Paul Longmore, 2003

Buttons and bumper sticker supporting implementation of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act which guaranteed legal protection for people with disabilities

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Let no person ever again be segregated in an institution, a back room or any other place for lack of services or communities that empower.
Justin Dart, 1998