Timeline of disability rights in the United States

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This disability rights timeline lists events relating to the 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.

19th century[edit]

1900 - 1969[edit]

  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.
  • 1938 - The Wagner-O'Day Act, enacted in 1938, mandated that U.S. federal agencies purchase products from workshops for the blind meeting specific qualifications.[2][3]
  • 1940 - The National Federation of the Blind was formed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, by Jacobus Broek and others. They advocated for white cane laws, input by blind people for programs for blind clients and other reforms.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1943 - The LaFollette-Barden Vocational Rehabilitation Act became law in the U.S., and it added physical rehabilitation to the goals of federally funded vocational rehabilitation programs and provided funding for certain care services.[1]
  • 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." [1][4]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1947 - The Paralyzed Veterans of America organization was created.[1]
  • 1948 - The National Paraplegia Foundation, founded by members of the Paralyzed Veterans of America as the civilian arm of their growing movement, took a leading role in advocating for disability rights.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1948 - We Are Not Alone (WANA), a mental patients’ self-help group, was organized at the Rockland State Hospital in Rockland County, New York.[1]
  • 1950 - Mary Switzer was appointed the Director of the U.S. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, where she emphasized independent living as a quality of life issue.[1]
  • 1950 - Social Security Amendments established a federal-state program to aid permanently and totally disabled persons in America.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1954 - Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments were passed that authorized federal grants to expand programs available to people with physical disabilities in America.[1]
  • 1954 - Mary Switzer, Director of the U.S. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, authorized funds for more than 100 university-based rehabilitation-related programs.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1956 - The Social Security Amendments of 1956 created the Social Security Disability (SSDI) program for disabled workers aged 50 to 64 in America.[1]
  • 1958 - The Social Security Amendments of 1958 extended Social Security Disability benefits to dependents of disabled workers in America.[1]
  • 1958 - PL 85-905, which authorized loan services for captioned films for the deaf, became law in the U.S.[5]
  • 1958 - PL 85-926, which provided federal support for training teachers for children with mental retardation, became law in the U.S.[5]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1960 - The (American) National Association for Down Syndrome (originally incorporated as the Mongoloid Development Council), the oldest Down Syndrome parent organization in the States, was founded by Kathryn McGee, whose daughter Tricia had Down Syndrome.[6]
  • 1960 - The (American) Social Security Amendments of 1960 eliminated the restriction that disabled workers receiving Social Security Disability benefits must be 50 or older.[1]
  • 1960 - Morton Birnbaum's seminal paper on "The Right To Treatment" appeared in 1960 in the American Bar Association Journal, marking the first published use of the term sanism in reference to the mentally ill.[7]
  • 1961 - U.S. President John F. Kennedy appointed a President’s Panel on Mental Retardation.[8]
  • 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.[8][9]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[10][11]
  • 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.[8]
  • 1963 - South Carolina passed the first statewide architectural access code in America.[8]
  • 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.”[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1965 - The National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, was established by the U.S. Congress.[1]
  • 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.[12]
  • 1966 - In Rouse v. Cameron, 373 F.2d 451 (D.C. Cir. 1966), Charles Rouse had been tried for carrying a weapon without a license, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed without a hearing to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. The maximum sentence was one year on the criminal charge. Years later, still in the hospital, Rouse filed a petition for habeas corpus challenging his confinement. Judge David Bazelon, writing for the court in Rouse, became the first appellate judge to say that civilly committed mental patients had a "right to treatment."[13]
  • 1966 - The President’s Committee on Mental Retardation was established by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.[1]
  • 1966 - "Christmas in Purgatory," by Burton Blatt and Fred Kaplan, was published; it documented conditions at American state institutions for people with developmental disabilities.[1]
  • 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.[14]
  • 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.[15] Among other things, it required provision of disabled-access toilet facilities. [16]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1969: Wolf Wolfensberger's seminal work "The Origin and Nature of Our Institutional Models" was published.[17] 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.[1][15]
  • 1970 - Disabled in Action was founded by Judith Heumann and others in New York City. A number of chapters were also started in various other American cities.[18]
  • 1970 - The Rolling Quads organization was started by Edward Roberts at UC Berkeley in California.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1971 - The Javits–Wagner–O'Day Act, 41 U.S.C. § 46 et seq., a U.S. federal law requiring that all federal agencies purchase specified supplies and services from nonprofit agencies employing persons who are blind or have other significant disabilities, was passed by the 92nd United States Congress in 1971. It was an expansion of the Wagner-O'Day Act of 1938 (see above).
  • 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.[19]
  • 1971 - The National Center for Law and the Handicapped was founded at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. It became the first legal advocacy center for people with disabilities in the U. S.
  • 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.[1]
  • 1971 - The Mental Patients’ Liberation Project was initiated in New York City.[1]
  • 1971 - The (American) Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was amended to bring people with disabilities (other than blindness) into the sheltered workshop system.[1]
  • 1971 - In Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 1257 (E.D. Pa. 1971) the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that it was the obligation of the state of Pennsylvania to provide free public education to mentally retarded children, which it was not doing at that time.[20][21][22] This decision struck down various state laws used to exclude disabled children from the public schools. Advocates cited this decision during public hearings that led to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.[1]
  • 1972 - Disability activists in Washington, D.C., protested President Nixon’s veto of what is now known as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.[18]
  • 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.[23]
  • 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.[18]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1972 - The Houston Cooperative Living Residential Project was established in Houston, Texas. It became a model for subsequent independent living programs.[1]
  • 1972 - The Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, founded in Washington, D.C., provided legal representation and advocated for the rights of people with mental illness.[1]
  • 1972 - The Legal Action Center (Washington, D.C. and New York City) was founded to advocate for the interests of people with alcohol or drug dependencies and for people with HIV/AIDS.[1]
  • 1972 - Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Paraplegia Foundation, and Richard Heddinger filed suit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, asking them to incorporate accessibility into their design for a new, multibillion-dollar subway system in Washington, D.C. Their victory was a landmark in the struggle for accessible public mass transit.[1]
  • 1972 - The Network Against Psychiatric Assault was organized in San Francisco.[1]
  • 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.[1][24][25][26][27]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1972 - Demonstrations were held by disabled activists in Washington, D.C. to protest Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Among the demonstrators were Disabled in Action, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Paraplegia Foundation, and others.[1]
  • 1972 - The Commonwealth of Virginia ceased its sterilization program. 8,300 individuals never received justice regarding their sterilizations, which they did not consent to.[1]
  • 1972 - In Jackson v. Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a person adjudicated incompetent could not be indefinitely committed.[28]
  • 1973 - The (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law; Section 504 of the Act 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.” This was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.[1][23][29]
  • 1973 - The American Bar Association’s Commission on the Mentally Disabled was established in 1973 to respond to the advocacy needs of persons with mental disabilities. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the ABA broadened the Commission’s mission to serve all persons with disabilities and changed its name to the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (CMPDL). In 2011, in order to better reflect the Commission's focus on both disability law and the rights of lawyers and law students with disabilities, it was renamed the Commission on Disability Rights. Its current mission as of 2015 is "to promote the ABA's commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession."[30]
  • 1973 - Handicapped parking stickers were introduced in Washington, D.C.[1]
  • 1973 - The first Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression was held at the University of Detroit.[1]
  • 1973 - The (American) Federal-Aid Highway Act authorized federal funds for construction of curb cuts.[1]
  • 1973 - The (American) Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, established under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, enforced the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.[1]
  • 1973 - The (American) Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities advocated for passage of what became the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act of 1975 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.[1]
  • 1974 - The Disabled Women's Coalition was founded at the University of California, Berkeley, by Susan Sygall and Deborah Kaplan.[31]
  • 1974 - Indiana repealed all laws concerning sterilization of the mentally ill in 1974.[32]
  • 1974 - The last ugly law was repealed, in Chicago, Illinois.[33]
  • 1974 - Although the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit, Virginia repealed its sterilization law in 1974.[34]
  • 1974 - The Atlantis Community of Denver, Colorado, was founded by Wade Blank, who relocated adults with severe disabilities from nursing homes to apartments.[1]
  • 1974 - The Boston Center for Independent Living was established.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1974 - The first (American) Client Assistant Project (CAP) was established to advocate for clients of state vocational rehabilitation agencies.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1974 - Barrier Free Environments, founded by Ronald Mace, advocated for accessibility in American buildings and products.[1]
  • 1975 - The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, PL 94-142, (renamed the 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.[1][15][35]
  • 1975 - The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act became law in the U.S., and it established protection and advocacy (P & A) services.[1]
  • 1975 - The Community Services Act became law in the U.S., and it created the Head Start Program. It stipulated that at least 10% of program openings were to be reserved for disabled children.[1]
  • 1975 - The Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act became law in the U.S., and it provided federal funds to programs serving people with developmental disabilities and outlined a series of rights for those who are institutionalized.[1]
  • 1975 - The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities was founded in Washington, D.C.. It became the leading national cross-disability rights organization of the 1970s.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[36][37]
  • 1975 - (American) Parent and Training Information Centers were developed to help parents of children with disabilities exercise their rights under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.[1]
  • 1975 - Edward Roberts was appointed Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation. He established nine independent living centers based on the Berkeley CIL model.[1]
  • 1975 - The Western Center on Law and the Handicapped was founded in Los Angeles.[1]
  • 1976 - The (American) Higher Education Act of 1972 amendment provided services to physically disabled students entering college.[1]
  • 1976 - Centers for independent living were established in Houston and Chicago.[1]
  • 1976 - The (American) Federal Communications Commission authorized reserving Line 21 on televisions for closed captions.[1]
  • 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).[1]
  • 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.[38][39]
  • 1976 - Disabled in Action, New York City, picketed the United Cerebral Palsy telethon, calling telethons “demeaning and paternalistic shows which celebrate and encourage pity.”[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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).[40]
  • 1977 - Initially Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.[41] After an ultimatum and deadline, demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5, 1977, including the beginning of a sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This sit-in, led by Judith Heumann and organized by Kitty Cone, lasted until May 4, 1977, a total of 28 days, with more than 150 people refusing to leave. It is the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. Joseph Califano signed the regulations on April 28, 1977.[1][23][42][43][44][45]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[46]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.”[1]
  • 1978 - On July 5 and 6 1978, a Denver intersection was the site of the first demonstration for wheelchair accessible public transportation when nineteen members of the Atlantis Community (known as the Gang of Nineteen) chanting "We Will Ride" blocked buses with their wheelchairs, staying in the streets all night.[47][48]
  • 1978 - Disability rights activists successfully protested the Denver Regional Transit Authority with a civil disobedience campaign because the transit system was inaccessible to people who used wheelchairs.[23]
  • 1978 - The Adaptive Environments Center was founded in Boston.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1978 - "On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System", by Judi Chamberlin, was published; it became the standard text of the psychiatric survivor movement.[1]
  • 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.[49]
  • 1978 - The National Center for Law and the Deaf was founded in Washington, D.C.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 1979 - Part B funds created ten new centers for independent living across the U.S.[1]
  • 1979 - Vermont Center for Independent Living, the first statewide independent living center in the U.S., was founded by representatives of Vermont disability groups.[1]
  • 1979 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Addington v. Texas raised the burden of proof required to commit persons for psychiatric treatment from the usual civil burden of proof of "preponderance of the evidence" to the higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence".[50]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[51]
  • 1979 - The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) was established in Berkeley, California. It conducts landmark litigation and lobbying.[1][18]



  • 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. [16] (Provision of disabled-access toilet facilities was mandated in federal buildings by the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 [16]). The ADA also required access in public transportation and communication.[1][58][59]
  • 1990 - Sam Skinner, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, issued regulations mandating wheelchair lifts on buses.[1]
  • 1990 - Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) organized the Wheels of Justice campaign in Washington, D.C., which drew hundreds of disabled people to support the Americans with Disabilities Act. Activists occupying the Capitol Rotunda were arrested when they refuse to leave.[1]
  • 1990 - The Committee of Ten Thousand was founded to advocate for Americans with hemophilia who were infected with HIV/AIDS through tainted blood products.[1]
  • 1990 - The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act became law in the U.S. It was meant to help communities cope with the HIV/AIDS epidemic.[1]
  • 1990 - The first Disability Pride Parade in the United States was held in Boston in 1990. The featured speaker was Karen Thompson, author of Why Can't Sharon Kowalski Come Home? The Boston Disability Pride Parade was held again in 1991, but has not been held since. It ended with the death of lead organizer, Diana Viets, and with the move of co-organizer Catherine Odette to Madison, Wisconsin.
  • 1990 - In Washington v. Harper the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the involuntary medication of correctional facility inmates only under certain conditions as determined by established policy and procedures.[60]
  • 1990 - Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) changed its focus to advocating for personal assistance services, changing its name to American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT).[1]
  • 1990 - The (American) Education for All Handicapped Children Act was amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This Act contains a permanently authorized grant program that provides federal funding to the states; all states that receive these federal funds are required to provide a "free, appropriate public education" to all children with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment." [1][61]
  • 1992 - Amendments to the (American) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were infused with the philosophy of independent living.[1]
  • 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.[52]
  • 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.[62]
  • 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.[63]
  • 1993 - The American Indian Disability Legislation Project was established to collect data on Native American disability rights laws and regulations.[1]
  • 1993 - Robert Williams was appointed Commissioner of the (American) Administration on Developmental Disabilities. He was the first developmentally disabled person to be named the Commissioner.[1]
  • 1993 - In Holland v. Sacramento City Unified School District, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court affirmed the right of disabled children to attend public school classes with non-disabled children. The ruling was a major victory in the ongoing effort to ensure enforcement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.[1]
  • 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".[64]
  • 1993 - The U.S. Congress explicitly authorized the creation of special needs trusts so that people with disabilities could maintain their public benefits and also have access to other funds.[65]
  • 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.[21]
  • 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." [21]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[66]
  • 1995 - Justice for All was organized by Justin Dart and others in Washington, D.C., in order to advocate against calls to amend or repeal the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.[1][67]
  • 1995 - The American Association of People with Disabilities was founded in Washington, D.C.[18]
  • 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.[1][18]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[68]
  • 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.[69]
  • 1996 - Paralyzed Veterans of America v. Ellerbe Becket Architects and Engineers, one of the first major Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, was focused on the wheelchair accessibility of a stadium project that was still in the design phase, MCI Center in Washington, D.C. Previous to this case, which was filed only five years after the ADA was passed, the DOJ was unable or unwilling to provide clarification on the distribution requirements for accessible wheelchair locations in large assembly spaces. While Section 4.33.3 of ADAAG makes reference to lines of sight, no specific reference is made to seeing over standing patrons. The MCI Center, designed by Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers, was designed with too few wheelchair and companion seats, and the ones that were included did not provide sight lines that would enable the wheelchair user to view the playing area while the spectators in front of them were standing. This case and another related case established precedent on seat distribution and sight lines issues for ADA enforcement that continues to present day.
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[1]
  • 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.[70]
  • 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.[71]
  • 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.[1][72]
  • 1998 - In Bragdon v. Abbott, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the definition of disability includes asymptomatic HIV.[1] Also in that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that reproduction does qualify as a major life activity according to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • 1998 - In Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Americans with Disabilities Act includes state prisons.[1]
  • 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."[73]
  • 1999 - In Carolyn C. Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corporation, et. al., the U.S. Supreme Court decided that people receiving Social Security disability benefits are protected against discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act if and when they are able to return to work.[1]
  • 1999 - In Olmstead v. L.C., the U.S. Supreme Court decided that individuals with mental disabilities must be offered services in the most integrated setting possible.[1][74]
  • 1999 - The Works Incentives Improvement Act (Ticket to Work) became law in the U.S., allowing those who require health care benefits to work.[1]
  • 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.[75]
  • 1999 - Barden v. The City of Sacramento, filed in March 1999, claimed that the City of Sacramento failed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act when, while making public street improvements, it did not bring its sidewalks into compliance with the ADA. Certain issues were resolved in Federal Court. One issue, whether sidewalks were covered by the ADA, was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that sidewalks were a "program" under ADA and must be made accessible to persons with disabilities. The ruling was later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case, letting stand the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court.[76]
  • 1999 - Bates v. UPS (begun in 1999) was the first equal opportunity employment class action brought on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing workers throughout the country concerning workplace discrimination. It established legal precedence for deaf and hard of hearing employees and customers to be fully covered under the ADA. Key findings included
  1. UPS failed to address communication barriers and to ensure equal conditions and opportunities for deaf employees;
  2. Deaf employees were routinely excluded from workplace information, denied opportunities for promotion, and exposed to unsafe conditions due to lack of accommodations by UPS;
  3. UPS also lacked a system to alert these employees as to emergencies, such as fires or chemical spills, to ensure that they would safely evacuate their facility; and
  4. UPS had no policy to ensure that deaf applicants and employees actually received effective communication in the workplace.

The outcome was that UPS agreed to pay a $5.8 million award and agreed to a comprehensive accommodations program that was implemented in their facilities throughout the country.


  • 2001 - The Commonwealth of Virginia House of Delegates approved a resolution expressing regret for its eugenics practices between 1924 and 1979.[1]
  • 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.[77][78]
  • 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.[79]
  • 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.[12]
  • 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.[80]
  • 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.[81][82]
  • 2003 - The Disability History Association was founded; it is an affiliated society of the American History Association.[83]
  • 2004 - On October 30, 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law the "Special Olympics Sport and Empowerment Act," Public Law 108-406. The bill authorized funding for its Healthy Athletes, Education, and Worldwide Expansion programs.[84]
  • 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.[85]
  • 2004 - The first Chicago Disability Pride Parade was the first Disability Pride Parade in the United States after the Boston-based parades of the 1990s.[86] It was held on July 18, 2004.[87] The first Chicago parade was funded with $10,000 in seed money that Sarah Triano received in 2003 as part of the Paul G. Hearne Leadership award from the American Association of People with Disabilities.[88] According to Triano, fifteen hundred people attended the parade.[88] Yoshiko Dart was the parade marshal.[89]
  • 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.[90]
  • 2005 - In Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act applied to foreign-flagged cruise ships in U.S. waters.[91]
  • 2005 - Peggy S. Salters, from South Carolina, became the first survivor of electroshock treatment in the United States 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.[92]
  • 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.[93]
  • 2006 - National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation, 452 F.Supp.2d 946 (2006), was a class action lawsuit in the United States that was filed on February 7, 2006 in the Superior Court of California for the County of Alameda, and subsequently moved to federal court.[94] The case challenged whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, specifically Title III's provisions prohibiting discrimination by "places of public accommodation" (42 U.S.C. 12181 et seq) apply to websites and/ or the Internet, or are restricted to physical places. The plaintiff, National Federation of the Blind (NFB), sued Target Corporation, a national retail chain, claiming that blind people were unable to access much of the information on the defendant's website, nor purchase anything from its website independently.[95] On September 7, 2006, the court ordered that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. In the court's opinion, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel explained that the order of the court was based upon "42 U.S. Code § 12182",[96] the prohibition of discrimination by public accommodations clause of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination in the "enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges."[97]
  • 2006 - In United States v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act extends to persons held in a state prison and protects prison inmates from discrimination on the basis of disability by prison personnel. Specifically, the court held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1213112165., was a proper use of Congressional power under the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5, making it applicable to prison system officials.[98]
  • 2007 - A psychiatric patient in the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in New York, given the pseudonym of Simone D., won a court ruling which set aside a two-year-old court order to give her electroshock treatment against her will.[99]
  • 2007 - Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America v. The University of Michigan, begun in 2007, was a case filed before The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division on behalf of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America against University of Michigan – Michigan Stadium claiming that Michigan Stadium violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its $226-million renovation by failing to add enough seats for disabled fans or accommodate the needs for disabled restrooms, concessions and parking. Additionally, the distribution of the accessible seating was at issue, with nearly all the seats being provided in the end-zone areas. The suit was settled in March 2008.[100] The settlement required the stadium to add 329 wheelchair seats throughout the stadium by 2010, and an additional 135 accessible seats in clubhouses to go along with the existing 88 wheelchair seats. This case was significant because it set a precedent for the uniform distribution of accessible seating and gave the DOJ the opportunity to clarify previously unclear rules.[101] The agreement now is a blueprint for all stadiums and other public facilities regarding accessibility.[69]
  • 2008 - The Washington, D.C. District Court decided that the Treasury must “take such steps as may be required to provide meaningful access to United States currency for blind and other visually impaired persons,” siding with the American Council of the Blind.[102]
  • 2008 - The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (Pub.L. 110–233, 122 Stat. 881, enacted May 21, 2008, GINA) became law in the U.S. The Act prohibits group health plans and health insurers from denying coverage to a healthy individual or charging that person higher premiums based solely on a genetic predisposition to developing a disease in the future. The legislation also bars employers from using individuals' genetic information when making hiring, firing, job placement, or promotion decisions.[103]
  • 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.[104]
  • 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.[69][105]
  • 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.[106]
  • 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.[107]
  • 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.[108]


  • 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.[109]
  • 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.[110]
  • 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.[111][112][113]
  • 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.[114]
  • 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.[115]
  • 2011 - In Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy v. Stewart, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Virginia cannot invoke its sovereign immunity to prevent the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy (an independent state agency and member of the National Disability Rights Network) from suing state officials for a court order. In other words, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Ex Parte Young allows a federal court to hear a lawsuit for prospective relief against state officials brought by another agency of the same state.[116][117]
  • 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.[118]
  • 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.[119]
  • 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.[120][121]
  • 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.[122]
  • 2012 - A lawsuit settlement provided that the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York would add wheelchair seating and accessible parking and renovate restrooms to make them more accessible.[123]
  • 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.[124]
  • 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.[125]
  • 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.[126] 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.[126][127]
  • 2012 - The Idaho Fish and Game Commission declared that a companion without a tag or permit is allowed to assist a disabled hunter.[128]
  • 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.[129]
  • 2013 - Since 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.[130]
  • 2013 - Newport News Circuit Court Judge David F. Pugh rejected a guardianship request from the parents of 29-year-old Margaret Jean Hatch, also called Jenny Hatch, that would have allowed them to keep her in a group home against her will.[131]
  • 2013 - In the case of EEOC v. Hill Country Farms, in a U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, a jury awarded the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission damages totaling $240 million - the largest verdict in the EEOC's history - for disability discrimination and severe abuse.[132] The jury agreed with the EEOC that Hill County Farms, doing business as Henry's Turkey Service, subjected 32 men with intellectual disabilities to severe abuse and discrimination for a period between 2007 and 2009, after 20 years of similar mistreatment.[132] However, later in 2013 the jury award for the 32 claimants was reduced to $1.6 million due to statutory damages caps applicable to claims brought under the Americans With Disabilities Act, which, along with the Court's previous award of back wages in the amount of $1.3 million, reduced the total recovery in the case to $2.9 million.[133]
  • 2013 - The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled that a girl's tree nut allergy was a protected disability under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, as well as an episodic impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act.[134]
  • 2013 - The U.S. Justice Department said in a settlement with Lesley University in Massachusetts that severe food allergies can be considered disabilities under federal law.[135][136]
  • 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.[137][138]
  • 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.[139]
  • 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.” [140][141]
  • 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.[142]
  • 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.[143][144]
  • 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.[145]
  • 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.[146]
  • 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.[147]
  • 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. [148][149]
  • 2014 - The Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (the ABLE Act) was signed into law. [150] This Act amends Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Service Code of 1986 to create tax-free savings accounts (ABLE accounts) for qualified expenses.[150] With these accounts (each person may have only one account) people with disabilities who have a condition that occurred before age 26 can save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs. They can also keep their Medicaid coverage no matter how much money they accrue in their ABLE account. Interest earned on savings will be tax-free. Under current gift-tax limitations as of 2014, as much as $14,000 could be deposited annually. However, each state must put regulations in place so that financial institutions can make the ABLE accounts available, and there is no guarantee a particular state will do so.[151]
  • 2014 - The U.S. Justice Department announced that it had entered into a statewide settlement agreement to resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act for approximately 3,250 Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Due to this settlement, 2,000 Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are being served by segregated programs as of 2014 will have opportunities to work in real jobs at competitive wages.[152] Also, over the next ten years, 1,250 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities will receive services to help transition into the workforce.[152] This was the first statewide settlement in American history to address the rights of people with disabilities to receive state funded employment and daytime services in the broader community, rather than in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs.[152]
  • 2015 - It was announced by Oregon state officials that the California-based owner and operator of a housing complex in Lake Oswego, Oregon (Prometheus Real Estate Group) had agreed to pay $475,000 to settle allegations that it failed to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled former resident.[153] In October 2011, James Calogridis requested a disabled parking spot closer to his and his wife's unit in the housing complex because of a disability that limited his ability to walk.[153] But in January 2012 he fell in the parking lot of the complex and was injured, dying of his injuries on February 9; February 9 was only one day after the complex owners gave him the parking spot he had requested.[153] In addition to the payment of $475,000, it was also agreed that Prometheus Real Estate Group must, "[c]omply with the Oregon Fair Housing Act and the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), [p]rovide BOLI [the Bureau of Labor and Industries] with a list of all Prometheus-owned or managed properties, [r]eport any property ownership changes or acquisitions to BOLI for three years, [c]onduct annual FHA trainings for all Prometheus employees, [m]aintain a "reasonable accommodation" log that documents tenant accommodation requests for BOLI on a semi-annual basis, [p]rovide BOLI with its policies and practices for reasonably accommodating tenant disabilities for the agency's review, [and n]otify all tenants of Prometheus properties in Oregon of their rights to reasonable accommodations."[153]
  • 2014 - Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, 755 F.3d 87 (2d Cir. 2014), was a copyright decision finding search and accessibility uses of digitized books to be fair use. The Authors Guild, other author organizations, and individual authors claimed that the HathiTrust Digital Library had infringed their copyrights through its use of books scanned by Google. A federal court ruled against the plaintiffs in October 2012, finding that HathiTrust's use was permissible under fair use.[154][155] The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Second Circuit, and were rebuffed in 2014. In an opinion by Barrington Daniels Parker, Jr., the Second Circuit largely affirmed the lower court's findings of fair use for accessibility and search, remanding only to consider whether the plaintiffs had standing to sue about library preservation copies.[156][157] The remaining claims were settled on January 6, 2015.[158][159][160]
  • 2015 - U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that Anthony Merchante's service dog should be allowed to join him at Nob Hill Elementary, and do so without a series of requirements the school district had added on.[161]
  • 2015 - The governor of Maryland signed a law establishing the Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates as Educators; it will operate out of the state’s Department of Disabilities, and will bring together people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to teach law enforcement officers about their needs.[162] The law was named for Robert Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old man with Down syndrome who died in 2013 after being restrained by three off-duty sheriff’s deputies when he refused to leave a Frederick, Md. movie theater. [162]
  • 2015 - In the U.S. Supreme Court case Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. ___ (2015), the Court held that Congress specifically intended to include disparate impact claims in the Fair Housing Act, but that such claims require a plaintiff to prove it is the defendant's policies that cause a disparity.[163] The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on disability.[164]
  • 2015 - New York City held its first Disability Pride Parade; Tom Harkin was its grand marshal.[165]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Fleischer, Doris and Frieda Zames, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1439907443
  • Kim E. Nielsen, A Disability History of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8070-2204-7
  • Fred Pelka, What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement. Amherst, Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-55849-918-8
  • Joseph P. Shapiro, No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement. Random House, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8129-1964-6