NOD Celebrating 40 Years logo

In 2022, the National Organization on Disability is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Scroll through this timeline to view key milestones in disability history and see how NOD has helped advance inclusion for all Americans with disabilities.

Disability History Timeline 450 BC - 1600's

Icon with a drop of blood

  • Purging and bloodletting, with roots in ancient Greek medicine, treated mental and physical disabilities.
  • Lepers chapels house people with disabilities.
Artwork from the Middle Ages, showing healing of a leper
Artwork from the Middle Ages, showing healing of a leper.
  • “Mad houses” cage and chain people with disabilities.


Icon of a medical kit

  • Disability understood within a ‘medical model’, to be cured or treated.
  • “Lunatic” asylums hide people with disabilities where they are neglected and/or ignored.
Illustration of a 'madhouse' from the 1600s
Illustration of a ‘madhouse’ from the 1600s.
  • 1774: Madhouses Act imposes regulations on privately run facilities.


Icon of a stethoscope

  • Freak shows put people with disabilities on display.
  • State hospitals house those with physical and mental disabilities.
Black and white photograph of a state hospital for people with disabilities.
Black and white photograph of a state hospital for people with disabilities.
  • 1836:
    • Benefits for disabled veterans begin after Revolutionary War.
    • First “Sheltered Workshop” for people with visual disabilities established.


Icon of a handicapped symbol

Photograph of FDR in a wheelchair with a young child.
Photograph of FDR in a wheelchair with a young child.
  • 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.
YMCA poster, reading: "Don't Pity a Disabled Man - Find Him A Job".
YMCA poster, reading: “Don’t Pity a Disabled Man – Find Him A Job”.
  • 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.


Icon of a briefcase

Photograph of disability rights protesters.
Photograph of disability rights protesters.
  • 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.
Alan A. Reich speaking at the UN.
Alan A. Reich speaking at the UN.
  • 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.
  • 1989: James Brady, President Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary and an impassioned advocate for all Americans with disabilities, joined NOD as vice chairman and lobbied Congressional Committees in support of a disability rights bill.
President Bush signs the ADA into law.
President Bush signs the ADA into law.
  • 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.
  • 1992: NOD’s CEO Council, founded under the chairmanship of BusinessWeek President and NOD Board Member Jack Patten, sponsored a series of conferences across the country to acquaint the business community with ADA requirements.
  • 1994: NOD launches its student internship program, Start on Success, to help high school students in underprivileged communities gain paid experience and achieve a foothold in the working world.
  • 1995: American Association of People with Disabilities is created, advocating for legal rights for people with disabilities.
  • 1995:
    • NOD leads a successful campaign to have a statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his wheelchair added to the his memorial in Washington, organizing demonstrations and enlisting the support of FDR’s descendants, biographers, the media and the American public.
    • 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.


Icon of a graph with a rising arrow

  • 2001: Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, NOD took the lead with its Emergency Preparedness Initiative to ensure that communities across the country included provisions for people with disabilities in preparedness planning.
  • 2005: With the death of Alan Reich in 2005, NOD lost its founder and the disability community lost a tremendous advocate and inspirational leader. But the great work he started at NOD continued with a focus on employability that he initiated in his final years.
  • 2006: With the leadership of the Kessler Foundation, NOD began to expand its work in the employment arena. NOD launched its signature employment programs to help corporate America recruit, hire, and retain talented employees with disabilities.
  • 2007: NOD and the US Army signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop the Wounded Warrior Careers Demonstration, which provided career support to hundreds of severely injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.
  • 2008: ADA Amendments Act clarifies and broadens the term “disability.”
  • 2010: Beginning as a pilot program called Bridges to Business, NOD’s successfully developed a model to build more effective links between employers and service organizations that represent jobseekers with disabilities.
  • 2013:
    • 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.
    • NOD introduces the Employment Tracker, the first benchmarking tool available to help companies identify opportunities to improve their employment practices and reap the benefits of an inclusive workforce.
  • 2015: President George H.W. Bush recalls the passage of the ADA in a video interview with NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge.
  • 2016: NOD launches its suite of Professional Services helping employers meet new targets for disability inclusion and debuts the Leading Disability Employer Seal, a recognition given to the top performing companies on the Employment Tracker.
  • 2017: NOD launches the Campus to Careers program to bring higher education professionals and employers together to develop new methods of recruiting college students with disabilities.
  • 2018: Launched with a billboard in New York City’s Times Square, the Look Closer campaign aims to challenge stereotypes and recast Americans with disabilities as a capable and untapped talent pool.

2020 + Beyond

NOD Celebrating 40 Years logo

  • 2022: The National Organization on Disability celebrates its 40th anniversary!
NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge with NOD President Carol Glazer
NOD Chairman Gov. Tom Ridge with NOD President Carol Glazer