Timeline


This guide is designed to assist youth with and without disabilities to learn about the rich history of people with disabilities. Although designed primarily for youth and emerging leaders with disabilities, the guide can be used in multiple ways to educate a broader audience as well. Starting shortly before the United States was founded, the guide features examples of the remarkable diversity, creativity, and leadership that have shaped the disability community and American culture. Included is an interactive activity for use with groups to demonstrate societal and statutory events that have contributed to and continue to contribute to the true integration of people with disabilities in society. This guide is a new resource for the growing national movement to have disability history taught in the public schools and community-based organizations.

To begin, simply click on the century markers below, and then the decade markers that will appear. You can also expand the entire timeline. Alternatively, you can view the PDF version of the timeline.

1700s Early Progress

1776: Founding Father Serves Despite Disability

Stephen Hopkins, a man with cerebal palsy, is one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkins is known for saying "my hands may tremble, my heart does not."

Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins (Wikipedia)


1782: Improved Amputation

Edward Alanson, an English surgeon, suggests a change in the way limbs are amputated, resulting in faster healing and less infection. This change has a positive impact on the quality of life for people who are amputees.

1784: Institution for Blind Children

After seeing a group of blind men being cruelly exhibited in a Paris sideshow, Valentin Huay, known as the "father and apostle of the blind," establishes the Institution for Blind Children to help make life for the blind more "tolerable." Huay also discovered that sightless persons could read texts printed with raised letters.

1793: Mentally Ill Unchained

Phillipe Pinel, a physician at La Bicetre, an asylum in Paris, removes the chains attached to people with mental illnesses. Some have been chained to walls for more than 30 years.

1798: First Military Disability Law

Detail from painting shows U.S. President John Adams signing the act for the relief of sick and disabled seamen, July 16, 1798.


1800s Continued Progress and Human Rights

1800: First Medical Classification of Mental Disorders

Phillipe Pinel writes Treatise on Insanity in which he develops a four-part medical classification for the major mental illnesses: melancholy, dementia, mania without delirium, and mania with delirium.

1801: Education for Mentally Disabled

Jean-Marc Gaspard Itard establishes the principles and methods used today in the education of the mentally disabled through his controversial work with Victor, the "wild boy of Aveyron."

1805: Mental Disorders Documented

Dr. Benjamin Rush, considered the father of American psychiatry, publishes Medical Inquiries and Observations, the first modern attempt to explain mental disorders.

1809: Birth of Louis Braille

Louis Braille is born on January 4, at Coupvray, near Paris. At three years of age, an accident caused him to become blind, and in 1819 he was sent to the Paris Blind School, which was originated by Valentin Huay.

1815-1817: Formal Deaf Education Begins in the U.S.

Thomas H. Gallaudet leaves the United States for Europe in 1815 to learn how to teach the deaf. Upon his return, he founds the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in Hartford, Connecticut, with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet Laurent Clerc. It is the first permanent school for the deaf in America. The opening of its doors, on April 15, 1817, marks the beginning of efforts in America to educate people with disabilities.

1818: McLean Asylum for the Insane

The first patient is admitted to the Charlestown branch of the Massachusetts General Hospital, which is later named the McLean Asylum for the Insane. The hospital will become one of the best-known mental health facilities in the country, with services attracting such artists as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, James Taylor, and Susanna Kaysen (author of Girl, Interrupted).

1829: Braille Invents the Raised Point Alphabet

Louis Braille invents the raised point alphabet that makes him a household name today. His method doesn't become well-known in the United States until more than 30 years after it is first taught at the St. Louis School for the Blind in 1860.

1844:Founding of Precursor to the American Psychiatric Association

The Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane, the precursor to the American Psychiatric Association, is founded.

1849: First "Sheltered Workshop" for the Blind

The first "sheltered workshop" is developed for the blind at the Perkins Institution in Massachusetts.

1855: First Facility for the Criminally Insane

The New York State Lunatic Asylum for Insane Convicts in Auburn is the first such facility designed specifically to house convicted criminals deemed to be insane. Previously, they were kept in prisons or hospitals.

1860: First Steps in Identifying Cerebral Palsy

In the 1860s, William Little makes the first step toward identifying cerebral palsy (CP) by describing children with stiff and/or spastic muscles in their arms and legs. That particular condition, known at the time as Little's disease (now called spastic diplegia), is one of the major disorders included in CP. Little also correctly guesses that the condition is caused by lack of oxygen during birth.

1861-1865 American Civil War

The American Civil War results in 30,000 amputations in the Union Army alone. This event brings disability issues to the American consciousness.

1862: Birth of "The Elephant Man"

Joseph Carey Merrick, better known in later years as "The Elephant Man," is born in Leicester, England. Merrick's head and body become covered in large tumors as a result of a rare nervous-system disorder, which is now known as neurofibromatosis and was diagnosed years after his death. He earns money by appearing in sideshows throughout England and is experimented on and tested on by a lot of doctors and scientists.

1881: Medical Degree For Freud

After researching the central nervous system, at Vienna University, Sigmund Freud, age 24, qualifies as a doctor of medicine. The following year, he begins work at Meynert's Psychiatric Clinic and begins to formulate the ideas that will comprise his theories of psychoanalysis.

1887: Helen Keller Meets New Tutor

Helen Keller, a deaf-blind seven-year-old living in Tuscumbia, Alabama, meets her new tutor, Annie Sullivan.


1900s Modern Advancements and Civil Rights

1907: Eugenic Sterilization Law Spreads Like Wildfire

Indiana becomes the first state to enact a eugenic sterilization law—for "confirmed idiots, imbeciles and rapists"—in state institutions. The law spreads like wildfire and is enacted in 24 other states.

1917: The Great War's Disabled Veterans

After being caught in an explosion and diagnosed with shell-shock as a result of combat in the British Army in World War I, Wilfred Owen, 24, arrives at Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh, Scotland. There he meets the poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon, who later introduces him to Robert Graves. Literary works from these three men, often touching on the subject of men disabled in battle, form the literary historical record for all the countries involved in "The Great War."

1918: Funding for Rehabilitation

As a result of the large number of WWI veterans returning with disabilities, Congress passes the first major rehabilitation program for soldiers. In 1920, a bill funding vocational rehabilitation guarantees federal money for job counseling and vocational training for disabled in the general public.

1919: Easter Seals, Model Charitable Organization

Edgar Allen, a businessman in Elyria, Ohio, founds the Ohio Society for Crippled Children, which becomes the national Easter Seals organization. It serves as a model for many of today's charitable organizations—in its methods and, some activists say, in its exclusion of people from the community being helped.

1925: Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Frida Kahlo, 18, is injured in a bus accident in her hometown of Mexico City. Her spinal column, along with her collarbone, ribs, and pelvis, is broken. For a month, she remains in bed. Bored, she begins to paint, the first step toward becoming one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.

1925: Study of Dyslexia

Samuel Orton begins his extensive study of dyslexia, hypothesizing that it could be neurological versus visual, and that it was likely connected to left-handedness. His first assumption is right. His second one, not so.

1927: Compulsory Sterilization Ruled Constitutional

The Supreme Court rules in Buck v. Bell that the compulsory sterilization of mental defectives such as Carrie S. Buck, a young Virginia woman, is constitutional under "careful" state safeguards. Perhaps unbelievably, this ruling has never been overturned. In his opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes writes:

"(It) is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind...Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

1927: Iron Lung To Combat Polio

In 1927 Philip Drinker and Louis Shaw develop the iron lung, a chamber that provides artificial respiration for polio patients being treated for respiratory muscle paralysis.

1932: Franklin D. Roosevelt Elected President

Franklin D. Roosevelt becomes the 32nd president of the United States and is re-elected for an unprecedented four terms before dying in office in April 1945. In August 1921, while vacationing at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Roosevelt contracted an illness, believed to be polio, which resulted in total and permanent paralysis from the waist down. After becoming President, he helps found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes). His leadership in this organization is one reason he is commemorated on the dime.

1934: California Council of the Blind

At the age of 23, Jacobus tenBroek, blind since age 14, joins with Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later becomes the National Federation of the Blind of California, a model for the nationwide organization he forms six years later.

1935: Signing of the Social Security Act

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act, establishing a program of permanent assistance to adults with disabilities.

1935: 1935 Disability Protest Results in WPA Jobs

To protest the fact that their requests for employment with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) have been stamped 'PH' (physically handicapped), 300 members of the League for the Physically Handicapped stage a nine-day sit in at the Home Relief Bureau of New York City. Eventually, they help secure several thousand jobs nationwide. The League of the Physically Handicapped is accepted as the first organization of people with disabilities by people with disabilities.

1937: Ray Charles Blind by Age Seven

At the age of seven Ray Charles Robinson (1930-2004) loses his sight completely due to glaucoma, which he's had since the time of his birth in Albany, Georgia. He learns to read music in Braille and eventually drops his last name while performing on the Florida blues circuit.

1939: Nazi Program Kills Thousands

At the onset of World War II Adolph Hitler orders widespread "mercy killing" of the sick and disabled. Code-named Aktion T4, the Nazi euthanasia program is instituted to eliminate "life unworthy of life." Between 75,000 to 250,000 people with intellectual or physical disabilities are systematically killed from 1939 to 1941.

1939: Lou Gehrig Day

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day is held at Yankee Stadium in New York City. The first baseman, nicknamed the Iron Horse, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but that day tells the world, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." His statement resounds long after his death in 1941.

1941: Rosemary Kennedy Institutionalized after Failed Lobotomy

John F. Kennedy's twenty-three year old sister Rosemary undergoes a prefrontal lobotomy as a "cure" for lifelong mild retardation and aggressive behavior that surfaces in late adolescence. The operation fails, resulting in total incapacity. To avoid scandal, Rosemary is moved permanently to the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Wisconsin. Her sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, later founds the Special Olympics in Rosemary's honor.

1948: Rusk's Theories Become Basis for Rehabilitation Medicine

Dr. Howard A. Rusk founds the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in New York City, where he develops techniques to improve the health of injured veterans from World War II. His theory focused on treating the emotional, psychological and social aspects of individuals with disabilities and later became the basis for modern rehabilitation medicine.

1950: Beginning of National Barrier-Free Standards

In the 1950s, disabled veterans and people with disabilities begin the barrier-free movement. The combined efforts of the Veterans Administration, The President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and the National Easter Seals Society, among others, results in the development of national standards for "barrier-free" buildings.

1950: The ARC Champions Abilities of Mentally Retarded

Parents of youth diagnosed with mental retardation found the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC). The association works to change the public's ideas about mental retardation. Its members educate parents and others, demonstrating that individuals with mental retardation have the ability to succeed in life. The ARC works to ensure that the estimated 7.2 million Americans with mental retardation and related developmental disabilities have the services and supports they need to grow, develop, and live in communities across the nation.

1953: Radiation Experiment Conducted Without Consent

Clemens Benda, clinical director at the Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts, an institution for boys with mental retardation, invites 100 teenage students to participate in a "science club" in which they will be privy to special outings and extra snacks. In a letter requesting parental consent, Benda mentions an experiment in which "blood samples are taken after a special breakfast meal containing a certain amount of calcium," but makes no mention of the inclusion of radioactive substances that are fed to the boys in their oatmeal.

1961: First Accessibility Standard Published

The American Standards Association, later known as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), publishes the first accessibility standard titled, Making Buildings Accessible to and Usable by the Physically Handicapped. Forty-nine states adapt accessibility legislation by 1973.

1961: Stevie Wonder Discovered

Ronnie White (of The Miracles) discovers 11-year-old Steveland Judkins and arranges an audition with Motown CEO, Berry Gordy, who immediately signs the boy as "Little Stevie Wonder."

1962: Ed Roberts Fights for Admission to University

Ed Roberts, a young man with polio, enrolls at the University of California, Berkeley. After his admission is rejected, he fights to get the decision overturned. He becomes the father of the Independent Living Movement and helps establish the first Center for Independent Living (CIL).

1963: Federal Funding Set Aside for Disability Infrastructure Support

The Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963 passes. The act sets aside money for developing State Developmental Disabilities Councils, Protection and Advocacy Systems, and University Centers. In 1984 it is renamed the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act.

1964: Civil Rights Bill Bypasses Persons with Disabilities

The Civil Rights Act is passed. While this act helps end discrimination against African Americans and women in the workplace, it does not make any provision for people with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities still lack opportunities to participate in and be contributing members of society, are denied access to employment, and are discriminated against based on disability.

1964: Baudot Merged with TTY Communication

In California, deaf orthodontist Dr. James C. Marsters of Pasadena sends a teletype machine (TTY) to deaf scientist Robert Weitbrecht, asking him to find a way to attach the TTY to the telephone system. Weitbrecht modifies an acoustic coupler, giving birth to "Baudot," a code that is still used in TTY communication.

1965: Medicaid Help for Low-Income and Disabled

Title XIX (19) of the Social Security Act creates a cooperative federal/state entitlement program, known as Medicaid, that pays medical costs for certain individuals with disabilities and families with low incomes.

1968: First International Special Olympics Games

Eunice Kennedy Shriver founds the Special Olympics in 1962 to provide athletic training and competition for persons with intellectual disabilities. The organization grows into an international program enabling more than one million young people and adults to participate in 23 Olympic-type sports events each year. The first International Special Olympics Games are held in Chicago, Illinois in 1968.

1968: Act Requires Accessible Buildings

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 mandates the removal of what is perceived to be the most significant obstacle to employment for people with disabilities—the physical design of the buildings and facilities on the job. The act requires that all buildings designed, constructed, altered, or leased with federal funds to be made accessible.

1970: Educator and Disability Activist

Judy Heumann sues the New York City Board of Education when her application for a teaching license is denied. The stated reason is the same originally used to bar her from kindergarten—that her wheelchair is a fire hazard. The suit, settled out of court, launches Heumann's activism. She later founds the Independent Living movement with Ed Roberts and oversees education and VR programs in the United States during the 1990s.

1972: Governor Wallace of Alabama Paralyzed

Governor George C. Wallace of Alabama is paralyzed after being shot during a presidential campaign rally in Laurel, Maryland.

1973: Public Entities Can't Discriminate

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 makes it illegal for federal agencies, public universities, and other public institutions receiving any federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability.

1974: Inaugural Convention of People First

The first convention for People First is held in Portland, Oregon. People First is a national organization of people with developmental disabilities learning to speak for themselves and supporting each other in doing so.

1974: Last of "Ugly Laws" Repealed

The last "Ugly Law" is repealed in Chicago, Illinois, in 1974. These laws allowed police to arrest and jail people with "apparent" disabilities for no reason other than being disfigured or demonstrating some type of disability.

1975: Law Guarantees Free, Appropriate, Public Education for All Disabled Children

The Education for Handicapped Children Act of 1975—now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)&mdashis signed into law. It guarantees a free, appropriate, public education for all children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.

1975: Staten Island's Willowbrook State School Finally Shuttered

After a five year battle with parents and advocates, New York Governor Hugh Carey signs the Willowbrook consent order, closing down a state institution notorious for its horrible conditions—broken plumbing, not enough doctors or medical supplies, patients living in filthy residences with no clean clothing, to name a few. Governor Carey pledges to relocate patients in community-based settings. Willowbrook remains open until 1978, but forever changes ideas about community-based care for people with developmental disabilities.

1976: Deaf Actress Signs On with Sesame Street

Deaf actress Linda Bove, graduate of Gallaudet College and veteran of the National Theater for the Deaf, signs a long-term contract to play Linda the librarian on public television's Sesame Street. James Earl Jones, a well known actor who has a speech-related disability, also gets his start on Sesame Street.

1977: Disability Demonstrators Occupy Federal Office

Demonstrators led by Judy Heumann take over the Health Education and Welfare (HEW) office in UN Plaza, San Francisco, California, in protest of HEW Secretary Califano's refusal to complete regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which made it illegal for federal agencies, public universities, and other public institutions receiving any federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability. After 25 days, Califano relents and signs the regulations into effect, making this take-over event the longest occupation of a federal office by protestors in U.S. history.

1978: Disability Activists Protest Inaccessibility of Denver Buses

In Denver, Colorado, nineteen members of the Atlantis Community block buses with their wheelchairs—chanting "We will ride!"—to demonstrate against the inaccessibility of public transportation.

1978: Organization for Hispanic Children with Disabilities

Fiesta Educativa (Education Fest) is formed to address the lack of Spanish-speaking support services to families with disabled children in southern California.

1978: National Council on Disability Established

The National Council on Disability is established as an advisory board within the Department of Education. Its purpose is to promote policies, programs, practices, and procedures that guarantee equal opportunity for all people with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability, and to empower them to achieve economic self-sufficiency, independent living, and inclusion and integration into all aspects of society.

1980: Institutions Can't Hold People Against Their Will

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) gives the Department of Justice power to sue state or local institutions that violate the rights of people held against their will, including those residing for care or treatment of mental illness.

1980: Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Disorder

The term Attention Deficit Disorder is included for the first time in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

1982: Down's Infant Allowed To Die

On April 9, "Baby Doe" is born with Down's syndrome and an under-developed esophagus. Doctors advise the parents not to opt for surgery and to allow him to die. On April 15, the child dies in an incubator.

1982: UN Encourages Global Equality and Participation for the Disabled

The United Nations General Assembly adopts "The World Program of Action Concerning the Disabled" in 1982 to encourage full participation and equality for people with disabilities around the world.

1982: Reich Founds National Organization on Disability

Alan A. Reich founds the National Organization on Disability (NOD) in 1982. NOD's mission is to expand the participation and contribution of Americans with disabilities in all aspects of life and to close the participation gap by raising disability awareness through programs and information. As president of NOD, Reich builds the coalition of disability groups that successfully fight for the inclusion of a statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair at the FDR Memorial. Reich is an international leader in the disability community until his death in 2005.

1983: ADAPT Campaigns for Transportation Access

Americans with Disabilities for Accessible Public Transportation, now known as ADAPT, began its national campaign for lifts on buses and access to public transit for people with disabilities. For seven years ADAPT—under the leadership of Bob Kafka, Stephanie Thomas, and Mike Auberger—blocked buses in cities across the U.S. to demonstrate the need for access to public transit. After the passage of the ADA (and transit measures gained by ADAPT's hard work), ADAPT began to focus on attendant and community based services, becoming American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today.

1986: Air Carriers Can't Discriminate Against Disabled

The Air Carrier Access Act is implemented, which prohibits discrimination by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental disabilities. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. Requirements include boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities.

1988: Gallaudet's "Deaf President Now" Protest

Students, faculty, and the community at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. organize a week-long protest on campus demanding the selection of a deaf president for the university. The protest is called "Deaf President Now" and the Dr. I. King Jordan is named.

1988: Mandated Accessible Housing in New Projects

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 expands on the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to require that a certain number of accessible housing units be created in all new multi-family housing. The act covers both public and private homes and not only those in receipt of federal funding.

1988: Disabled Writer Burns Book In Protest

Paul Longmore, noted disability historian, burns a copy of his book in front of the federal building in Los Angeles in protest of work disincentives, which stopped him from receiving payment as an author to keep his medical benefits.

1988: Assistive Technology Initiative

Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 is passed. This piece of legislation increases access to, availability of, and funding for assistive technology through state and national initiatives.

1989: McAfee Chooses Life, Becomes Advocate

Larry McAfee is granted the right, by a Georgia court, to be given a sedative and be taken off a ventilator in order to end his life. He changes his mind and becomes a disability-rights advocate.

1990: Americans with Disabilities Act Becomes Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is signed into law by President George H. W. Bush (R) alongside its "founding father," Justin Dart. The ADA is considered the most important civil rights law since Title 504 and has cross-disability support, bringing disability-specific organizations, advocates, and supporters all together for the same cause. Sitting alongside Dart and the President were Senators Harkin and Weiker and Congressmen Owens, Coehlo, and Hoyer.

1990: Terry Schiavo Suffers Severe Brain Damage

Terry Schiavo is severely brain damaged after her heart stops because of a chemical imbalance that is believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. Court-appointed doctors rule she is in a "persistent vegetative state" with no real consciousness or chance of recovery. Over a decade later, her case will spark much controversy and receive national media attention.

1992: California Hosts First Youth Leadership Forum

The first Youth Leadership Forum for youth with disabilities is developed in California by the Governor's Committee for Employment of Disabled Persons. The U.S. Department of Labor funds other states to develop similar forums. By 2007, youth leadership forums are taking place in 23 states.

1995: American Association of People with Disabilities

Paul Hearne, a longtime leader in the disability community, achieves his dream of creating a national association to give people with disabilities more consumer power and a stronger public voice, with the creation of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

1995: Christopher Reeve Paralyzed

Christopher Reeve's horse fails to complete a rail jump at an annual riding competition in Virginia. Reeve is thrown and sustains a severe C1-C2 vertebrae fracture that paralyzes him from the neck down. Best known for his Superman role, after the injury Reeve begins his own battle, searching for a cure to spinal cord injury. Though he dies in 2004 without seeing a cure, he receives both admiration and criticism for his attempts at finding one, leaving a legacy of ongoing research around spinal cord injuries.

1996: Accessible Computer and Telecomm Equipment

The Telecommunications Act passes and requires that computers, telephones, closed captioning, and many other telecommunication devices and equipment be made accessible.

1998: Dentist Must Treat HIV-Positive Patient

The Supreme Court, in Bragdon v. Abbott, extends ADA benefits to a woman with HIV who sued a dentist who refused to fill a cavity for fear of getting the disease himself. Persons with HIV/AIDS are considered disabled under the ADA.

1998: Disabled Golfer Has Right To Use Cart in PGA

A federal judge rules that golfer Casey Martin—the first pro athlete to utilize the ADA to play a competitive sport—does have the right to use a golf cart in the PGA Tour tournaments due to a rare circulatory disorder that severely limits his ability to walk an entire course.

1999: Soccer League Ordered To Allow Disabled Player

In November, a U.S. District Court judge issues an emergency court order telling the Lawton, Oklahoma, Evening Optimist Soccer League to allow Ryan Taylor, a nine-year-old with cerebral palsy, to play in the league. His walker, referred to as a safety hazard by the defendants, is padded during games.

1999: Benefits Protected for Some Who Return To Work

The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvements Act of 1999 (TWWIIA) expands the availability of Medicare and Medicaid so that certain disabled beneficiaries who return to work will not lose their medical benefits—the same issue Paul Longmore protests against back in 1988.

1999: Unnecessary Institutionalization Discriminatory

In Olmstead v. L.C. the U.S. Supreme Court rules that unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities constitutes discrimination and violates the ADA, that individuals have a right to receive benefits in the "most integrated setting appropriate to their needs," and that failure to find community-based placements for qualifying people with disabilities is illegal discrimination.


2000s Paving the Way for Future Progress

2000: Genome Project Maps Human DNA Sequence

The Human Genome Project nears completion. President Clinton and leading scientists announce the completion of a "rough draft" of the DNA sequence (linked strands of protein, the "building blocks" of life) for human life. While some advocates are encouraged with the hope of finding cures and medical breakthroughs, others fear an end of "disability" altogether.

2004: First Disability Pride Parade in Chicago

A coalition of disability rights advocates and organizations holds the first Disability Pride Parade. Organizers expect 500-600 people to attend the event, which is designed to "change the way people think about and define disability, to break down and end the internalized shame among people with disabilities, and to promote the belief in society that disability is a natural and beautiful part of life." Almost 2,000 attend.

2004: Tennessee Sued for Inaccessible Courts

In 2004, the United States Supreme Court hears Tennessee v. Lane, a case in which individuals sue the state of Tennessee for failing to ensure that courthouses are accessible to people with disabilities. One plaintiff is arrested when he refuses to crawl or be carried up stairs. The state argues that they can not be sued under Title II of the ADA. The Supreme Court decides in favor of people with disabilities, however, ruling that Tennessee can be sued for damages under Title II for failing to provide access to the courts.

2004: Funding for Youth Information Centers

The Administration for Developmental Disabilities begins to fund Youth Information Centers (YICs). Modeled after Parent Training and Information Centers, YICs are designed to be run by and for youth and emerging leaders with disabilities, promoting a youth-led agenda and providing services within the disability community.

2005: Cuts in Tennessee Medicaid Leads to Sit-In

Upset by Governor Bredesen's massive cuts to the state Medicaid System, TennCare, disability advocates in Tennessee begin a sit-in at the Governor's office that lasts 75 days, replacing the record set in 1977 by the HEW office takeover.

2005: Schivao's Husband Has Right To Let Her Die

Terry Schivao's husband Michael is given the right to remove her feeding tube. Terry dies at the age of 41 after living 15 years in a "persistent vegetative" state. Despite numerous protests by her parents, she dies from dehydration after the feeding tube is removed by court order. The case gains national attention and continues to direct public focus on living wills and other forms of life/estate planning. Schiavo left no written instructions concerning her wishes if she were to ever become so severely disabled.

2006: Gallaudet Students Protest New President

I. King Jordan resigns from Gallaudet University. Students protest the hiring of his replacement, citing issues such as not being raised using American Sign Language (ASL) and her lack of familiarity with deaf culture.

2006: History of Disability Rights Enters Curricula

The first bill requiring that students in a K-12 public school system be taught the history of the disability rights movement is passed, largely due to the efforts of 20 young people with disabilities from the state of West Virginia.

2006: 50-State Road-To-Freedom Tour

The Road-to-Freedom tour kicked off on November 15th. This 50-state bus tour and photographic exhibit chronicles the history of the grassroots "people's movement" that led to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).