The disability rights movement, that began in the 1960s, was encouraged by the examples of the African-American civil rights and women’s civil rights movements.
It was at this time that disability rights advocacy began to have a cross-disability focus. People with different kinds of disabilities (physical and mental handicaps, along with visual- and hearing-impairments) and different essential needs came together to fight for a common cause. In 1948 a movement started to first prove that there were physical barriers for the handicap in public places and also research ways to modify these areas to provide access. This process continued over 40 years.
One of the most important developments of the disability rights movement was the growth of the independent living movement, which emerged in California in the 1960s through the efforts of Edward Roberts and other wheelchair-using individuals. This movement says that people with disabilities are the best experts on their needs, and therefore they must take the initiative, individually and collectively, in designing and promoting better solutions and must organize themselves for political power.
Roberts was a true pioneer: he was the first student with significant disabilities to attend UC Berkeley. He enrolled in UC Berkeley in 1962. When his search for housing met resistance, the director of the campus health service offered him a room in an empty wing of the Cowell Hospital. Roberts accepted on the condition that the area where he lived be treated as dormitory space, not a medical facility. Other students with severe disabilities joined him over the next few years at what evolved into the Cowell Residence Program. The group developed a sense of identity and began to formulate a political analysis of disability. They began calling themselves the "Rolling Quads" to the surprise of some non-disabled observers who had never before heard a positive expression of disability identity. Their success on campus inspired the group to begin advocating for curb cuts, opening access to the wider community, and to create the Physically Disabled Student's Program (PDSP) - the first student-led disability services program in the country.
Roberts went on to become an international leader and educator in the independent living and disability rights movements. He fought throughout his life to enable all people with disabilities to fully participate in society. He was a founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program, which became the model for Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living (CIL) and over 400 independent living centers across the country. He was one of the early directors of CIL. He was the first California State Director of Rehabilitation with a disability. He was awarded a MacArthur fellowship, and he was co–founder and President of the World Institute on Disability. Roberts died on March 14, 1995 at the age of 56.
Later in 1973 the American Rehabilitation Act prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. This was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
In 1983, Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) was responsible for another civil disobedience campaign also in Denver that lasted seven years. They targeted the American Public Transport Association in protest of inaccessible public transportation. This campaign ended in 1990 when bus lifts for people using wheelchairs were required nationwide by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 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.
|President George H.W. Bush signs into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 on the South Lawn of the White House, July 26, 1990.|