Disability History Timeline
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450 BC - 1600's
- Purging and bloodletting, with roots in ancient Greek medicine, treated mental and physical disabilities.
- Lepers chapels house people with disabilities.
- “Mad houses” cage and chain people with disabilities.
- Disability understood within a ‘medical model’, to be cured or treated.
- “Lunatic” asylums hide people with disabilities where they are neglected and/or ignored.
- 1774: Madhouses Act imposes regulations on privately run facilities.
- Freak shows put people with disabilities on display.
- State hospitals house those with physical and mental disabilities.
- Benefits for disabled veterans begin after Revolutionary War.
- First “Sheltered Workshop” for people with visual disabilities established.
- 1932: The first President with visible disabilities, Franklin D. Roosevelt, is elected, but the public is shielded from the extent of his disabilities.
- 1935: Social Security Act provides cash benefits, medical and therapeutic services for people with disabilities.
- 1945: First National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week, which later becomes National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
- 1948: Congress passes legislation prohibiting discrimination in federal employment for people with physical disabilities.
- 1960’s: Disability rights movement begins encouraged by the examples of the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements.
- 1963: The Community Mental Health Act was meant to help those who were “warehoused” in institutions move back into their communities.
- 1970’s: Activists file legal challenges and hold protests focused on fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities.
- 1927: The Center for Independent Living was founded at Berkley, California and led by disabilities activist Ed Roberts.
- 1973: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 establishes equal access for people with disabilities through removal of architectural, employment and transportation barriers in federal establishments.
- 1975: The Education for Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (later, IDEA) guarantees a free, appropriate, public education for all children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.
- 1977: San Francisco activists hold 28-day sit in calling for federal civil rights for people with disabilities. Measure is signed that year.
- 1981: United Nations commemorates the first International Year of Disabled Persons. Alan A. Reich becomes first person to address U.N. General Assembly from a wheelchair.
- 1982: The National Organization on Disability (NOD) is founded by Alan Reich to continue the momentum to promote disability inclusion.
- 1984: Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act ensured equal access to the polls.
- 1986: NOD and Harris issue disability “gap surveys,” the field’s first authoritative data source comparing quality of life compared to non-disabled.
- 1990: President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, enshrining equal access and non-discrimination.
- 1990: Federal government issues regulations mandating wheelchair lifts on public buses.
- 1995: American Association of People with Disabilities is created, advocating for legal rights for people with disabilities.
- 1996: Mental Health Parity Act bans health plans from imposing unwarranted dollar limits on mental health benefits.
- 1998:President Clinton signs Internet accessibility law, giving people with disabilities access to all electronic and information technology in the federal sector.
- 1999: The Supreme Court’s Olmstead Decision affirmed right to live in the community rather than in state run institutions.
- 2008: ADA Amendments Act clarifies and broadens the term “disability.”
- The Section 503 Rule Change to the Rehab Act requires federal contractors to begin affirmative hiring of people with disabilities with a goal to reach 7% workforce representation.
- ABLE Act allows for savings accounts that don’t hinder people with disabilities’ Medicaid & SSI benefits.
- 2015: President George H.W. Bush recalls the passage of the ADA in a video interview with NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge.
- 2020: Celebrating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act