This disability rights timeline lists events relating to civil rights of people with disabilities in the United States of America, including court decisions, the passage of legislation, activists' actions, and the founding of various organizations. Although the disability rights movement itself began in the 1960s, advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities started much earlier and continues to the present.
1918 - The Smith-Sears Veterans Rehabilitation Act became law, and provided for the promotion of vocational rehabilitation and return to civil employment of disabled persons discharged from the U.S. military.
1935 - The League for the Physically Handicapped in New York City was formed to protest discrimination by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Home Relief Bureau of New York City stamped all applications with “PH” which stood for "physically handicapped." Members of the League held a sit-in at the Home Relief Bureau for nine days and a weekend sit-in at the WPA headquarters. These actions eventually led to the creation of 1,500 jobs in New York City.
1935 - The Social Security Act became U.S. law, and provided federally funded old-age benefits and funds to states for assistance to blind individuals and disabled children. The Act also extended existing vocational rehabilitation programs.
1936 - The Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U.S.C. § 107 et seq., a federal law which mandates a priority to blind persons to operate vending facilities on federal property, became law in the U.S. It was amended and updated significantly in 1974.
1940 - The American Federation of the Physically Handicapped, founded in 1940 by Paul Strachan, was the first cross-disability national (American) political organization to urge an end to job discrimination, lobby for passage of related legislation, and call for a National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week, as well as other initiatives.
1945 - PL-176 became law in the U.S., and it declared the first week in October each year would be National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week. In 1962 the word "physically" was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month (October) and changed the name to "National Disability Employment Awareness Month." 
1946 - The Hill-Burton Act (also known as the Hospital Survey and Construction Act) became law in the U.S., and it authorized federal grants to states for the construction of hospitals, public centers and health facilities for rehabilitation of people with disabilities.
1946 - The National Mental Health Foundation was founded by American conscientious objectors from WWII who served as attendants at state mental institutions rather than serving in the war. The Foundation exposed the abusive conditions at these facilities and became an impetus toward deinstitutionalization.
1947 - The President’s Committee on National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week was held in Washington, D.C. Publicity campaigns, coordinated by state and local committees, emphasized the competence of people with disabilities and used movie trailers, billboards, radio and television ads to convince the public that it was good business to hire the handicapped.
1948 - The University of Illinois at Galesburg disabled students’ program was officially founded, and was directed by Timothy Nugent. The program moved to the campus at Urbana-Champaign where it became a prototype for disabled student programs and independent living centers across the country.
1948 - We Are Not Alone (WANA), a mental patients’ self-help group, was organized at the Rockland State Hospital in Rockland County, New York.
1950 - Social Security Amendments established a federal-state program to aid permanently and totally disabled persons in America.
1953 - The (American) President’s Committee on National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week became the President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped, a permanent organization reporting to the President and Congress.
1954 - Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments were passed that authorized federal grants to expand programs available to people with physical disabilities in America.
1954 - The (American) Social Security Act of 1935 was amended by PL 83-761 to include a freeze provision for workers who were forced by disability to leave the workforce. This protected their benefits by freezing their retirement benefits at their pre-disability level.
1956 - The Social Security Amendments of 1956 created the Social Security Disability (SSDI) program for disabled workers aged 50 to 64 in America.
1958 - The Social Security Amendments of 1958 extended Social Security Disability benefits to dependents of disabled workers in America.
1958 - PL 85-905, which authorized loan services for captioned films for the deaf, became law in the U.S.
1958 - PL 85-926, which provided federal support for training teachers for children with mental retardation, became law in the U.S.
1958 - The Rehabilitation Gazette (formerly known as the Toomeyville Gazette), edited by Gini Laurie, was founded. It was an American grassroots publication which became an early voice for disability rights, independent living, and cross-disability organizing. It featured articles by writers with disabilities.
1960 - The (American) Social Security Amendments of 1960 eliminated the restriction that disabled workers receiving Social Security Disability benefits must be 50 or older.
1961 - U.S. President John F. Kennedy appointed a President’s Panel on Mental Retardation.
1961 - The American National Standard Institute, Inc. (ANSI) published American Standard Specifications for Making Buildings Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped (the A117.1 Barrier Free Standard). This landmark document, produced by the University of Illinois, became the basis for subsequent architectural access codes.
1962 - The (American) President’s Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped was renamed the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, reflecting increased interest in employment issues affecting people with cognitive disabilities and mental illness.
1962 - Edward Roberts successfully sued to gain admission to the University of California, Berkeley, making him the first student with severe disabilities to attend that school.
1963 - Public Law 88-164, also called the Community Mental Health Act, became law in the U.S., and it authorized funding for developmental research centers in university affiliated facilities and community facilities for people with mental retardation; it was the first federal law directed to help people with developmental disabilites.
1963 - U.S. President John F. Kennedy called for a reduction “over a number of years and by hundreds of thousands, (in the number) of persons confined” to residential institutions and asked that methods be found “to retain in and return to the community the mentally ill and mentally retarded, and thereto restore and revitalize their lives through better health programs and strengthened educational and rehabilitation services.” This resulted in deinstitutionalization and increased community services.
1963 - South Carolina passed the first statewide architectural access code in America.
1965 - Medicare and Medicaid were established through passage of the Social Security Amendments of 1965, providing federally subsidized health care to disabled and elderly Americans covered by the Social Security program. These amendments changed the definition of disability under Social Security Disability program from “of long continued and indefinite duration” to “expected to last for not less than 12 months.”
1965 -The (American) Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments of 1965 were passed authorizing federal funds for construction of rehabilitation centers, expansion of existing vocational rehabilitation programs and the creation of the National Commission on Architectural Barriers to Rehabilitation of the Handicapped.
1965 - The Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law in the U.S., and in addition to providing sweeping protections for minority voting rights, it allowed those with various disabilities to receive assistance "by a person of the voter's choice", as long as that person was not the disabled voter's boss or union agent.
1966 - The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation was established by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
1966 - "Christmas in Purgatory," by Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplan, was published; it documented conditions at American state institutions for people with developmental disabilities.
1967 - The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, often abbreviated LPS, (Cal. Welf & Inst. Code, sec. 5000 et seq.) was signed into law by then-governor of California Ronald Reagan (although it only went into full effect on July 1, 1972.) The Act in effect ended all hospital commitments by the judiciary system in California, except in the case of criminal sentencing, e.g., convicted sexual offenders, and those who are "gravely disabled", defined as unable to obtain food, clothing, or housing [Conservatorship of Susan T., 8 Cal. 4th 1005 (1994)]. It did not, however, impede the right of voluntary commitment. It also expanded the evaluative power of psychiatrists and created provisions and criteria for holds. This Act set the precedent for modern mental health commitment procedures in the United States.
1968 - The Architectural Barriers Act became law in the U.S., and required all federally owned or leased buildings to be accessible to disabled people. Among other things, it required provision of disabled-access toilet facilities. 
1968 - The California legislature guaranteed that the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) would be the first rapid transit system in the U.S. to accommodate wheelchair users.
1969: Wolf Wolfensberger's seminal work "The Origin and Nature of Our Institutional Models" was published. This book posited that society characterizes people with disabilities as deviant, sub-human and burdens of charity, resulting in the adoption of that "deviant" role.
1970 - The Urban Mass Transportation Act became law, and it required all new American mass transit vehicles be equipped with wheelchair lifts. APTA delayed implementation for 20 years. Regulations were finally issued in 1990.
1970 - Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendments became law in the U.S. These Amendments contained the first legal definition of developmental disabilities. They also authorized grants for services and facilities for the rehabilitation of people with developmental disabilities and state DD Councils.
1970 - The (American) Physically Disabled Students Program (PDSP) was founded by Edward Roberts, John Hessler, Hale Zukas, and others at UC Berkeley. With its focus on community living, political advocacy and personal assistance services, it became the nucleus for the first Center for Independent Living, founded in 1972.
1971 - The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) published American Standard Specifications for Making Buildings Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped (the A117.1 Barrier Free Standard). This landmark document, produced by the University of Illinois, became the basis for subsequent architectural access codes.
1971 - The U.S. District Court, Middle District of Alabama, decided in Wyatt v. Stickney that people in residential state schools and institutions had a constitutional right “to receive such individual treatment as (would) give them a realistic opportunity to be cured or to improve his or her mental condition.” Disabled people were no longer to be locked away in custodial institutions without treatment or education.
1972 - The Center for Independent Living was established by Edward Roberts and associates in Berkeley, California. It was established with funds from the Rehabilitation Administration, and it is recognized as the first center for independent living. This sparked the Independent Living Movement.
1972 - In Mills v. Board of Education the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia decided that every child, regardless of the type and severity of their disability, was entitled to a free public education.
1972 - The (American) Social Security Amendments of 1972 created the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. The law relieved families of the financial responsibility of caring for their adult disabled children.
1972 - In New York ARC v. Rockefeller, parents of 5,000 residents at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, New York, filed suit over the inhumane living conditions at that institution, where residents were abused and neglected. A 1972 television broadcast from the Willowbrook State School, titled "Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace," outraged the general public. However, it took 3 years from the time the lawsuit documents were filed before the consent judgement was signed. In 1975, the consent judgement was signed, and it committed New York state to improve community placement for the now designated "Willowbrook Class." The Willowbrook State School was closed in 1987, and all but about 150 of the former Willowbrook residents were moved to group homes by 1992.
1972 - Disabled in Action demonstrated in New York City, protesting President Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Led by Judith Heumann, eighty activists staged a sit-in on Madison Avenue, stopping traffic. A flood of letters and protest calls were made.
1972 - The Commonwealth of Virginia ceased its sterilization program. 8,300 individuals never received justice regarding their sterilizations, which they did not consent to.
1972 - In Jackson v. Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a person adjudicated incompetent could not be indefinitely committed.
1973 - The (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law; Sections 501, 503, and 504 prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. Key language in the Rehabilitation Act, found in Section 504, states “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his [sic] handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” 
1973 - Handicapped parking stickers were introduced in Washington, D.C.
1974 - Halderman v. Pennhurst, filed in Pennsylvania on behalf of the residents of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, highlighted conditions at state schools for people with mental retardation. It became a precedent in the battle for deinstitutionalization, establishing a right to community services for people with developmental disabilities.
1974 - The first (American) Client Assistant Project (CAP) was established to advocate for clients of state vocational rehabilitation agencies.
1974 - North Carolina passed a statewide building code with stringent access requirements. Drafted by access advocate Ronald Mace, the code became a model for effective architectural access legislation in other states.
1975 - The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, PL 94-142, (renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990) became law in the U.S., and it declared that handicapped children could not be excluded from public school because of their disability, and that school districts were required to provide special services to meet the needs of handicapped children. The law also required that handicapped children be taught in a setting that resembles as closely as possible the regular school program, while also meeting their special needs.
1975 - The (American) Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH) was founded by special education professionals in response to PARC v. Pennsylvania (1971) and other right-to-education cases. This organization called for the end of aversive behavior modification and the closing of all residential institutions for people with disabilities.
1975 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled (in O'Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975)) that a state cannot constitutionally confine, without more, a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends, and since the previous jury found, upon ample evidence, that petitioner did so confine respondent, it properly concluded that petitioner had violated respondent's right to liberty.
1976 - Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, Inc. v. Coleman was known as the Transbus lawsuit. Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, the American Coalition of Cerebral Palsy Associations and others were represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. They successfully filed suit to require that all buses purchased by public transit authorities receiving federal funds meet Transbus specifications (making them wheelchair accessible).
1976 - Celestine Tate Harrington, a street musician with quadriplegia, won the right to parent her daughter Nia, having proved to a judge that she could take care of Nia and therefore should not have to give her to the Philadelphia Department of Public Welfare because of her quadriplegia.
1976 - The Disability Rights Center was founded in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law, it specialized in consumer protection for people with disabilities.
1976 - The Westside Center for Independent Living, Los Angeles, was one of the first nine independent living centers established by Edward Roberts, Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation.
1976 - James L. Cherry and several members of the Action League for Physically Handicapped Adults (ALPHA) filed a lawsuit, known as Cherry v. Mathews, which was decided in their favor on July 19, 1976. U. S. District Court Judge John Lewis Smith ruled for them and ordered DHEW (the U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare) to develop the Section 504 regulation to prohibit discrimination against "handicapped persons" in any federally funded program. In January, 1977, Mathews (then the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare) refused to sign the prepared regulation, and James Cherry and his co-plaintiffs went back to the U. S. District Court, where Mathews was held in contempt of court for refusing to follow the Cherry court order. Mathews was soon replaced by Joseph Califano due to Jimmy Carter being sworn in as President (see next entry in this timeline).
1977 - Initially Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for Section 504. After an ultimatum and deadline, demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5, 1977. The sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, led by Judith Heumann, lasted until May 1, 1977. More than 150 demonstrators refused to disband. This action became the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. Joseph Califano signed the regulations on April 28, 1977.
1977 - Max Cleland was appointed head of the U.S. Veterans Administration. He was the first severely disabled person and the youngest person to fill that position.
1977 - The White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals drew 3,000 people with disabilities to discuss federal policy toward people with disabilities. It resulted in numerous recommendations and acted as a catalyst for grassroots disability rights organizing.
1977 - The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act (AB 846), also known as the Lanterman Act, is a California law, initially proposed by Assemblymember Frank D. Lanterman in 1973 and passed in 1977, that gives people with developmental disabilities the right to services and supports that enable them to live a more independent and normal life. The Lanterman Act declares that persons with developmental disabilities have the same legal rights and responsibilities guaranteed all other persons by federal and state constitutions and laws, and charges the regional center with advocacy for, and protection of, these rights.
1977 - Legal Services Corporation Act Amendments added financially needy people with disabilities to the list of those eligible for publicly funded legal services in America.
1977 - In Lloyd v. Regional Transportation Authority, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit ruled that individuals have a right to sue under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and that public transit authorities must provide accessible service. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, in Snowden v. Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority undermined this decision by ruling that authorities need to provide access only to “handicapped persons other than those confined to wheelchairs.”
1978 - Disability rights activists successfully protested the Denver Regional Transit Authority with a year-long civil disobedience campaign because the transit system was inaccessible to people who used wheelchairs.
1978 - Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 became law in the U.S., and it established the first federal funding for consumer-controlled independent living centers and created the National Council of the Handicapped under the U.S. Department of Education.
1978 - In Rennie v. Klein, the Federal District Court of New Jersey ruled that an involuntarily committed individual has a constitutional right to refuse psychotropic medication without a court order.
1978 - Handicapping America, by Frank Bowe, was published; it was a comprehensive review of the policies and attitudes denying equal citizenship to Americans with disabilities. It became a standard text of the disability rights movement.
1979 - Part B funds created ten new centers for independent living across the U.S.
1979 - Vermont Center for Independent Living, the first statewide independent living center in the U.S., was founded by representatives of Vermont disability groups.
1979 - In Southeastern Community College v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, programs receiving federal funds must make “reasonable modifications” to enable the participation of otherwise qualified disabled individuals. This decision was the Court’s first ruling on Section 504 establishing reasonable modification as an important principle in disability rights law.
1979 - In Rogers v. Okin, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that a competent patient committed to a psychiatric hospital has the right to refuse treatment in non-emergency situations.
1980 - The American National Standard Institute, Inc. (ANSI) published American Standard Specifications for Making Buildings Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped (the A117.1 Barrier Free Standard). This landmark document, produced by the University of Illinois, became the basis for subsequent architectural access codes Uniform Federal Accessibility Standard 1984 and the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990.
1981 - In Tokarcik v. Forest Hills School District, 655 F.2d 443 (3rd Cir. 1981), the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, ruled that denying a disabled child access to a regular public school classroom without a compelling education justification constituted discrimination.
1981 - Gini Laurie organized the first international conference on post-polio problems.
1982 - In Board of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (2nd Circuit Court 1982), the 2nd Circuit Court in the U.S. found that individualized decisions based on the unique needs of each child were essential under federal law. Schools who let one criterion, such as a specific disability, automatically determine the placement are likely to be held in violation of federal law.
1984 - The (American) Social Security Disability Reform Act was passed in response to the complaints of hundreds of thousands of people whose social security disability benefits were terminated. The law required that payment of benefits and health insurance coverage continue for terminated recipients until they exhausted their appeals.
1981-1984 - The Reagan administration threatened to amend or revoke regulations implementing Section 504 of the (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Disability rights advocates Patrisha Wright, (DREDF), and Evan Kemp, Jr. (Disability Rights Center) led an intense lobbying and grassroots campaign that generated more than 40,000 cards and letters. After three years, the Reagan Administration abandoned its attempts to revoke or amend the regulations. However, the Reagan Administration terminated the Social Security benefits of hundreds of thousands of disabled recipients. Distressed by this action, several disabled people committed suicide. A variety of groups including the Alliance of Social Security Disability Recipients and the Ad Hoc Committee on Social Security Disability fought these terminations.
1985 - The Mental Illness Bill of Rights Act became law in the U.S., and it required states to provide protection and advocacy services to protect and advocate for people with psychological disabilities.
1985 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center that localities cannot use zoning laws to prohibit group homes for people with developmental disabilities from opening in a residential area solely because its residents are disabled.
1987 - Justin Dart, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, was forced to resign after he testified to the U.S. Congress that “an inflexible federal system, like the society it represents, still contains a significant portion of individuals who have not yet overcome obsolete, paternalistic attitudes toward disability...”
1988 - The (American) Air Carrier Access Act was passed prohibiting airlines from refusing to serve people with disabilities and from charging people with disabilities more for airfare than non-disabled travelers.
1988 - The (American) Civil Rights Restoration Act counteracted bad case law by clarifying Congress’ original intention. Under the Rehabilitation Act, discrimination in any program or service that receives federal funding – not just the part which actually and directly receives the funding – is illegal.
1988 - The (American) Fair Housing Act was amended to protect people with disabilities from housing discrimination in the areas of rentals, sales, and financing, as outlined in the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The amendment also provided that reasonable modifications had to be made to existing buildings and accessibility had to be constructed into new multi-family housing units.
1988 - San Francisco historian and disability rights scholar Paul K. Longmore burned his first book, "The Invention of George Washington", on the steps of a federal building in 1988 to protest policies that discriminated against disabled Americans. The Social Security Administration eventually revised its rules to allow disabled authors to count publishing royalties as earned income. The change became known as the "Longmore Amendment." 
1988 - In Honig v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the stay-put rule established under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. School authorities cannot expel or suspend or otherwise move disabled children from the setting agreed upon in the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) without a due process hearing.
1989 - In ADAPT v. Skinner, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal regulations requiring that transit authorities spend only 3% of their budgets on access are arbitrary and discriminatory.
1989 - In Daniel R.R. v State Board of Education, 874 F.2d 1036 (5th Circuit Court 1989), the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that regular education placement is appropriate if a child with a disability can receive a satisfactory education, even if it is not the best academic setting for the child; non-academic benefits must also be considered. The Court stated that "academic achievement is not the only purpose of mainstreaming. Integrating a handicapped child into a nonhandicapped environment may be beneficial in and of itself...even if the child cannot flourish academically." The Circuit Court developed a two-pronged test to determine if the district's actions were in compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): 1) Can education in the regular classroom with the use of supplemental aids and services be achieved satisfactorily? 2) If it cannot, has the school mainstreamed the child to the maximum extent appropriate? 
1990 - The Americans with Disabilities Act became law, and it provided comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities. Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history. It mandated that local, state, and federal governments and programs be accessible, that employers with more than 15 employees make “reasonable accommodations” for workers with disabilities and not discriminate against otherwise qualified workers with disabilities, and that public accommodations and commercial facilities make “reasonable modifications” to ensure access for disabled members of the public, and not discriminate against them. It also mandated provision of disabled-access toilet facilities in private buildings.  (Provision of disabled-access toilet facilities was mandated in federal buildings by the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968). The ADA also required access in public transportation and communication.
1990 - Sam Skinner, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, issued regulations mandating lifts on buses.
1992 - Amendments to the (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were infused with the philosophy of independent living.
1992 - In Greer vs. Rome City School District (11th Circuit Court, 1992), the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court stated "Before the school district may conclude that a handicapped child should be educated outside of the regular classroom it must consider whether supplemental aids and services would permit satisfactory education in the regular classroom." The court also said that the district cannot refuse to serve a child because of added cost, and that school officials must share placement considerations with the child's parents at the IEP meeting before a placement is determined.
1992 - In Foucha v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the continued commitment of an insanity acquittee who was not suffering from a mental illness was unconstitutional.
1992 - In Riggins v. Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a defendant has the right to refuse psychiatric medication which is given to mitigate their psychiatric symptoms while they are on trial.
1993 - 3 men were convicted of sexually assaulting a mentally retarded woman in New Jersey, despite attempts by the prosecution to depict the young woman as an aggressive "Lolita".
1993 - In Roncker v. Walter, 700 F2d. 1058 (6th Circuit Court 1993), the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court addressed the issue of "bringing educational services to the child" versus "bringing the child to the services". The case was resolved in favor of integrated versus segregated placement and established a principle of portability; that is, "if a desirable service currently provided in a segregated setting can feasiblely be delivered in an integrated setting, it would be inappropriate under PL 94-142 to provide the service in a segregated environment." The Roncker Court found that placement decisions must be individually made. School districts that automatically place children in a predetermined type of school solely on the basis of their disability (e.g., mentally retardation) rather than on the basis of the IEP, violate federal laws.
1993 - In Oberti vs. Board of Education of the Borough of Clementon School District (3rd Circuit Court, 1993), the U.S. Third Circuit Court upheld the right of Rafeal Oberti, a boy with Down syndrome, to receive his education in his regular neighborhood school with adequate and necessary supports, placing the burden of proof for compliance with IDEA's mainstreaming requirements on the school district and the state rather than on the family. The federal judge who decided the case endorsed full inclusion, writing "Inclusion is a right, not a special privilege for a select few." 
1993 - The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 became law in the U.S., and it required states with disabled service agencies to have them act as disabled voter registration agencies as well.
1993 - In the case Mavis v. Sobol, a New York court found school efforts for placement in a regular classroom were inadequate because the school had not provided a behavior management plan or training for staff to help modify the regular curriculum to meet the student's needs.
1995 - The American film When Billy Broke His Head... and Other Tales of Wonder, by Billy Golfus, premiered on PBS. It highlighted the disability rights movement.
1995 - The U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, ruled in Helen L. v. Snider that continued institutionalization of a disabled Pennsylvania woman, when not medically necessary and where there was the option of home care, was a violation of her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Disability rights advocates perceived this ruling as a landmark decision regarding the rights of people in nursing homes to personal assistance services.
1995 - Sandra Jensen was denied a heart-lung transplant by the Stanford University School of Medicine in California because she had Down syndrome. After pressure from disability rights activists, Stanford U School of Medicine administrators reversed their decision. In 1996, Jensen became the first person with Down syndrome to receive a heart-lung transplant.
1995 - The Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 (CAA) became law in the U.S., and it required all offices in the legislative branch to make their public services, programs, activities, and places of public accommodation accessible to members of the public who have disabilities, as well as declaring that employees of Congress cannot be discriminated against in personnel actions because of a disability.
1996 - The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 (MHPA) became law in the U.S. and it required that large group health plans not impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on mental health benefits that are less favorable than any such limits imposed on medical/surgical benefits.
1996 - Not Dead Yet was formed by American disability rights advocates to oppose those who support assisted suicide for people with disabilities. It focuses on opposing rationing health care to people with severe disabilities and opposing the imposition of “do not resuscitate” (DNR) orders for disabled people in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.
1996 - In Vacco v. Quill and Washington v. Glucksberg, the U.S. Supreme Court validated the state prohibition on physician-assisted suicide, deciding that the issue is within the jurisdiction of the states.
1998 - The Veterans Programs Enhancement Act became law in the U.S., and it required a cost-of-living adjustment in rates of compensation paid to veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as various improvements in education, housing, and cemetery programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
1998 - The first support group for sexual minorities with developmental disabilities was created in 1998 at the New Haven Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Connecticut.
1998 - The Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-277) became law in the U.S., and it required the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to determine, based on National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports, whether particular illnesses warrant a presumption of service connection and, if so, to set compensation regulations establishing such a connection for each illness.
1998 - President Clinton signs into law the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Amendments, which includes Section 508. Section 508 "requires access to the Federal government's electronic and information technology. The law covers all types of electronic and information technology in the Federal sector and is not limited to assistive technologies used by people with disabilities."
1999 - In Cedar Rapids Community School District v. Garret F., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-supported schools are responsible for the costs of providing continual care for disabled students under a federal law that says all children must receive "free, appropriate public education." Under the Court's reading of the IDEA's relevant provisions, medical treatments such as suctioning, ventilator checks, catheterization, and others which can be administered by non-physician personnel come within the parameters of the special education law's related services.
2001 - In PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin (00-24) 532 U.S. 661, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by its plain terms, prohibited the PGA from denying Casey Martin equal access to its tours on the basis of his disability (a degenerative circulatory disorder preventing him from walking golf courses) and that allowing Martin to use a golf cart, despite the walking rule, was not a modification that would "fundamentally alter the nature" of the game.
2002 - In Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), the U. S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that executing the mentally retarded violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
2002 - The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) became law in the U.S., and it required voting "systems" to be accessible for all those with disabilities, including special assistance for blind or otherwise visually impaired voters.
2003 - The U.S. Supreme Court decision Sell v. United States imposed stringent limits on the right of a lower court to order the forcible administration of antipsychotic medication to a criminal defendant who had been determined to be incompetent to stand trial for the sole purpose of making them competent and able to be tried.
2003 - In Hornstine v. Township of Moorestown Blair Hornstine, then a high school senior, successfully sued her school district, which had said she was able to get a higher grade point average because she had been home-schooled at times because of an immune-system illness and, as a result, had taken more advanced placement courses and fewer low-rated physical education courses. Arguing that she had the highest grades and should not have to share the top honors in her class, Blair won the right to be sole valedictorian.
2004 - In Tennessee v. Lane, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act did not violate the sovereign immunity doctrine of the 11th Amendment when, based on Congress's 14th Amendment enforcement powers of the Due Process clause, it allowed individuals to sue states for denying them services based on their disabilities. The Court held that Congress had sufficiently demonstrated the problems faced by disabled persons who sought to exercise fundamental rights protected by the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment (such as access to a court). The Court also emphasized that the remedies required from the states were not unreasonable – they just had to make reasonable accommodations to allow disabled persons to exercise their fundamental rights. The Court thus held that because Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act was a "reasonable prophylactic measure, reasonably targeted to a legitimate end," and because Congress had the authority under the 14th Amendment to regulate the actions of the states to accomplish that end, the law was constitutional.
2005 - The California Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) became California law in 2005 after the voters passed Proposition 63. Funded through a 1 percent tax on personal incomes in excess of $1 million, the MHSA established a broad continuum of community-based prevention, early intervention, and other services for Californians with severe mental illnesses. The California Department of Mental Health administers the act, and counties and their contracted agencies provide the direct consumer services.
2005 - Peggy S. Salters, from South Carolina, became the first survivor of electroshock treatment to win a jury verdict and a large money judgment ($635,177) in compensation for extensive permanent amnesia and cognitive disability caused by the procedure.
2005 - In Campbell v. General Dynamics Gov't Sys. Corp., the First Circuit Court of the U.S. had to consider the enforceability of a mandatory arbitration agreement, contained in a dispute resolution policy linked to an e-mailed company-wide announcement, insofar as it applied to employment discrimination claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the Court's analysis, the question turned on whether the employer provided minimally sufficient notice of the contractual nature of the e-mailed policy and of the concomitant waiver of an employee's right to access a judicial forum. The Court weighed the attendant circumstances and concluded that the notice was wanting and that, therefore, enforcement of the waiver would be inappropriate; thus the Court upheld the district court's denial of the employer's motion to stay proceedings and compel the employee to submit his claim to arbitration. The case is a principal case in the Rothstein, Liebman employment law casebook.
2007 - Simone D., a psychiatric patient in the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York, won a court ruling which set aside a two-year-old court order to give her electroshock treatment against her will.
2008 - The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008 became law, and it broadened the scope of who is considered disabled under the law, and when considering whether a person is disabled, the law required that people ignore the beneficial effects of any mitigating measures (except ordinary eyeglasses and contact lenses) the person uses; furthermore, when considering whether a person is substantially limited in a major life activity, which would make them disabled under the law, the law required the consideration of bodily functions as well as other major life activities, and having one major life activity substantially limited is enough; when considering whether a person whose condition is episodic or in remission is substantially limited in a major life activity, the law required the consideration of the person's limitations as they are when the condition is in an active state; furthermore, determining someone is disabled under the law does not require individuals to meet the substantially-limited-in-a-major-life-activity standard, but does not include impairments that are transitory and minor.
2008 - The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act became law in the U.S., and it required that if a group health plan includes medical/surgical benefits and MH/SUD (mental health/substance abuse) benefits, the financial requirements (e.g., deductibles and co-payments) and treatment limitations (e.g., number of visits or days of coverage) that apply to MH/SUD benefits must be no more restrictive than the predominant financial requirements or treatment limitations that apply to substantially all medical/surgical benefits; MH/SUD benefits may not be subject to any separate cost-sharing requirements or treatment limitations that only apply to such benefits; if a group health plan includes medical/surgical benefits and MH/SUD benefits, and the plan provides for out-of-network medical/surgical benefits, it must provide for out-of-network MH/SUD benefits; and standards for medical necessity determinations and reasons for any denial of benefits relating to MH/SUD benefits must be disclosed upon request. However, this law does not apply to small group health plans.
2009 - The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act became law in the U.S., and it expanded the definition of federal hate crime to include those violent crimes in which the victim is selected due to their actual or perceived disability; previously federal hate crimes were defined as only those violent crimes where the victim is selected due to their race, color, religion, or national origin.
2009 - The Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act became law in the U.S. It was the first piece of comprehensive legislation aimed at improving the lives of Americans living with paralysis; it created new coordinated research activities through the National Institutes of Health to search for a cure for paralysis, and promotes enhanced rehabilitation services for Americans living with paralysis.
2009 - In Forest Grove v. T.A., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents of a child with a disability. The Court held that even though their son had never received special education services from the school district they were entitled to pursue tuition reimbursement for the private educational program they secured for their son, T.A.
2010 - The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, known as CVAA, was signed into law. It requires that unedited, full-length programs shown on TV with captions must also be captioned when they are made available online, with more requirements to be phased in at later dates.
2010: Rosa's Law, which changed references in many federal statutes that referred to "mental retardation" to make them refer, instead, to "intellectual disability", became law in the U.S.
2010 - The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law. Due to this law, since 2012 companies cannot drop a person's coverage when they get sick due to a mistake the person made on their application, or put a lifetime cap on how much care they will pay for if a person gets sick, and since 2014 companies cannot deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, or put an annual cap on how much care they will pay for if a person gets sick.
2011 - On March 15, 2011, new Americans with Disabilities Act rules came into effect. These rules expanded accessibility requirements for recreational facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses, exercise clubs, and boating facilities. They also set standards for the use of wheelchairs and other mobility devices like Segways in public spaces, and changed the standards for things such as selling tickets to events and reserving accessible hotel rooms. The new rules also clearly defined “service animal” as “...any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” This portion of the law also states that the services the service animal provides must be “directly related to the handler’s disability” and dogs that provide only emotional support or crime deterrence cannot be defined as service animals.
2011 - The Broken Arrow City Council, Oklahoma, unanimously voted to create an exotic animal ordinance exemption allowing Christie Carr, who was depressed, to keep her therapy kangaroo within city limits so long as certain conditions were met.
2011 - The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act, also known as the FAIR Education Act (Senate Bill 48), which states that California schools must include the contributions of people with disabilities in their textbooks and in teaching of history and social studies classes, became law.
2011 - Facilities licensed by the DDS (Department of Developmental Services) in Massachusetts, including but not limited to the Judge Rotenberg Center, were banned from subjecting new admissions to severe behavioral interventions including electric shock, long-term restraint, or aversives that pose risk for psychological harm.
2012 - It was announced that by 2014, AMC movie theaters in Illinois would be equipped with captioning services and audio-description devices, available to moviegoers at nearly any movie at an AMC theater in Illinois and at all of a film’s listed showings.
2012 - A lawsuit settlement provided that the Colorado Department of Human Services is required to admit a pretrial detainee to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (“CMHIP”) within 28 days of the court determining the need for an evaluation or restorative treatment, the Department is required to maintain a monthly average of no more than 24 days for all patients admitted to CMHIP for evaluation or treatment, and competency evaluations performed in county jails must be completed within 30 days.
2012 - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn issued an executive order to increase state oversight of investigations into the deaths of adults with disabilities, because a recent Belleville News-Democrat investigation revealed that, since 2003, the inspector general of the Department of Human Services did not investigate 53 cases called into the agency's hotline about disabled adults living at home who were allegedly abused or neglected and later died.
2012 - Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a deal to create a new state agency, the Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs, to police abuse and neglect of more than one million New Yorkers with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and other conditions that put them at risk. Lawmakers also agreed to expand the state’s public disclosure law, requiring thousands of nonprofit groups that provide services to disabled and mentally ill people to make records of abuse and neglect public. The reforms were based on a report by Clarence J. Sundram, Special Advisor to the Governor on Vulnerable Persons, entitled "The Measure of a Society:Protection of Vulnerable Persons in Residential Facilities Against Abuse and Neglect." Some disability activists supported this reform, but others disapproved because they thought investigations should be referred to outside police agencies, not the state. An independent nonprofit group is also being set up to lobby for policy changes for people with disabilities. The group will get powers to conduct its own investigations after complaints and to review documents connected to particular allegations, and that authority is detailed in state law. It will also be given access to group homes and state institutions.
2012 - It was announced that Netflix will offer closed captions on all TV and movie content from September 2014 as part of a settlement with a deaf viewer from Massachusetts (Lee Nettles) who sued the company. In 2012, a federal judge in Springfield, Massachusetts ruled in that lawsuit that Netflix and other online providers that serve the public are subject to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the first ruling in the country to recognize that Internet-based businesses are covered by the act.
2012 - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission declared that a companion without a tag or permit is allowed to assist a disabled hunter.
2012 - A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit affirmed that school districts should reimburse parents for independent educational evaluations of students with disabilities, at least in some cases. Though the U.S. Department of Education had long indicated that parents have the right to an independent opinion at public expense under certain circumstance, the Jefferson County Board of Education in Alabama had challenged the rule.
2013 - As of January 31, 2013, all existing pools located at “public accommodations” must meet Americans With Disabilities Act standards. This requires the installation of a fixed lift for the pool areas.
2013 - The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, Massachusetts found that companies can be required to pay long-term disability benefits to a recovering drug addict if the person would face a significant risk of relapse by returning to work. This is believed to be the first time a circuit court said that a risk of relapse into substance abuse can constitute a disability, entitling an employee to long-term benefits, according to the attorney for the plaintiff.
2013 - The U.S. Department of Education issued a mandate requiring schools to provide sports for children with disabilities. Specifically, students with disabilities who want to compete in sports for their school can join traditional teams if officials can make “reasonable modifications” to accommodate them. If those adjustments would fundamentally alter a sport or give the student an advantage, the department says schools must create parallel athletic programs that have comparable standing to traditional programs.
2013 - Persons with intellectual disabilities, severe physical disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities who opt to apply for a job with the federal government through Schedule A - a hiring authority allowing agencies to appoint a qualified, disabled applicant to a position without competing with the general public - stopped being required to supply a “certification of job readiness” from a medical professional or rehabilitation specialist stating they could perform the job. Under the revised policies, agencies became able to hire after determining that the person is “likely to succeed” in performing the duties of the position, a decision that can be based on any relevant work, educational, or other experience. The new rules also dropped the term “mental retardation” and replaced it with “intellectual disability.” 
2013 - The U.S. Supreme Court blocked North Carolina from trying to take more than $900,000 from a legal settlement won by the family of a 13-year-old girl, identified only as E.M.A, who suffered serious injuries during her birth that left her severely disabled. Writing for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the state cannot claim a share of the settlement as reimbursement for medical care without determining how much of the settlement is attributable to the care.
2013 - Effective July 1, 2013, California Civil Code Section 1938 requires every “commercial property owner or lessor” in California to include on the lease whether the property has been inspected by a Certified Access Specialist (CASp), and if so, whether the CASp did or did not determine whether the property met all applicable construction-related accessibility standards pursuant to Section 55.53.
2013 - The U.S. Justice Department said on its website April 22 that it was issuing a new nationwide policy for unrepresented detainees with serious mental disabilities. The Executive Office for Immigration Review will make available a qualified representative to detainees deemed mentally incompetent to represent themselves in immigration proceedings.
2013 - North Carolina announced that it would spend $10 million beginning in June 2015 to compensate men and women who were sterilized in the state's eugenics program; North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people from 1929 to 1974 who were deemed socially or mentally unfit.
2013 - Airline website pages which have core travel information and services must be accessible to the disabled within two years, the Department of Transportation said, and all pages on airline websites must within three years be readily available to people with disabilities. The new regulations also required airline ticket agents to disclose — and offer — web-based discount fares to customers unable to use their sites due to a disability. Airlines already were required to provide equivalent service for consumers who were unable to use inaccessible websites. Airlines and airports were also required by the new regulations to have to make accessible to the disabled automated kiosks providing boarding passes and baggage tags, as they purchased new equipment. If no new kiosks were installed, 25 percent of the kiosks at each airport location in 2013 were required to be accessible within 10 years. Another new rule gave airlines more flexibility in how they transported manual, folding wheelchairs onboard, making it possible for them to carry up to two wheelchairs in the cabin. In addition to being able to stow a wheelchair in a closet, airlines were also allowed under the new regulations to strap a second chair across a row of seats. Closets also were required to have signs saying wheelchairs have priority over other baggage.
2014 - Employees of federal service and concession contractors with disabilities who had been paid less than minimum wage under Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act were included in an executive order (signed in 2014) raising the minimum wage for employees of federal service and concession contractors to $10.10 an hour. 
Summary table of disability rights goals in the United States
^ abcdStroman, Duane (2003). The Disability Rights Movement. Washington: University Press of America. ISBN0-7618-2481-2.
^ abcAnthony, Kathryn H. and; Meghan Dufresne (2007). "Potty Parity in Perspective: Gender and Family Issues in Planning and Designing Public Restrooms". Journal of Planning Literature21 (3): 267–294. doi:10.1177/0885412206295846.