Disability rights movement
Part of a series of articles onDiscrimination
The Disability Rights Movement aims to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and to confront the disadvantages and discrimination that they face. The goals and demands of the movement are bifurcated. One major concern is achieving civil rights for the disabled. This is further broken down into issues of accessibility in transportation, architecture, and the physical environment and equal opportunities in employment, education, and housing. Effective civil rights legislation is sought in order to eliminate exclusionary practice.
For people with physical disabilities accessibility and safety are primary issues that this movement works to reform. Access to public areas such as city streets and public buildings and restrooms are some of the more visible changes brought about in recent decades. A noticeable change in some parts of the world is the installation of elevators, transit lifts, wheelchair ramps and curb cuts, allowing people in wheelchairs and with other mobility impairments to use public sidewalks and public transit more easily and more safely. These improvements have also been appreciated by parents pushing strollers or carts, bicycle users, and travelers with rolling luggage.
Access to education and employment have also been a major focus of this movement. Adaptive technologies, enabling people to work jobs they could not have previously, help create access to jobs and economic independence. Access in the classroom has helped improve education opportunities and independence for people with disabilities
The second concern of the movement deals with lifestyle, self-determination, and an individual–s ability to live independently. The right to have an independent life as an adult, sometimes using paid assistant care instead of being institutionalized, is another major goal of this movement, and is the main goal of the similar independent living and self-advocacy movements, which are more strongly associated with people with intellectual disabilities and mental health disorders. These movements have supported people with disabilities to live as more active participants in society.
As a result of the work done through the Disability Rights Movement, significant legislation was passed in the 1970s through the 1990s.
In the United States, the disability rights movement began in the 1970s, encouraged by the examples of the African-American civil rights and women–s rights movements, which began in the late 1960s. It was at this time that the movement began to have a cross-disability focus. The movement was unique in the fact that it was pluralistic. People with different kinds of disabilities (physical and mental handicaps, along with visual- and hearing-impairments) and different essential needs alongside people with no disabilities have been able to come together to fight for a common cause.
A watershed for the movement was the validation of physical and program barriers. Providing only steps to enter buildings or having other program barriers such as lack of maintenance, locations not connected with public transit or lack of visual and hearing communications, segregates individuals with disabilities from access and independence. The ANSI - Barrier Free Standard (phrase coined by Dr. Timothy J. Nugent lead investigator) called "ANSI A117.1, Making Buildings Accessible to and Usable by the Physically Handicapped", provides the indisputable proof that the barriers exist. It is based on disability ergonomic research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign campus from 1946 to 1986. The research was codified in the ANSI A117.1 standard in 1961, 1971, 1980, and 1986. The standard is the outcome of physical therapist, bio-mechanical engineers, and individuals with disabilities who developed and participated in over 40 years of research. The standard provides the criteria for modifying programs and the physical site to provide independence. Applying the researched standards finished criteria presents reliable access and non-hazardous conditions. In October 2011 the standard will be 50 years old. The standard has been emulated globally since its introduction in Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia, and Canada, in the early 1960's.
One of the most important developments of the movement was the growth of the Independent Living movement, which emerged in California through the efforts of Edward Roberts and other wheelchair-dependent individuals. Another crucial turning point was the nationwide sit-in conceived by Frank Bowe and organized by the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in 1977 of government buildings operated by HEW in San Francisco and Washington DC that successfully led to the release of regulations pursuant to Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Prior to the 1990 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act was the most important disability rights legislation in the United States. The Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund was begun in 1979.
In the UK, following extensive activism by disabled people over several decades, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) was passed. This makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with disabilities in relation to employment, the provision of goods and services, education and transport. It is a civil rights law. Other countries use constitutional, social rights or criminal law to make similar provisions. The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides support for the Act. Equivalent legislation exists in Northern Ireland, which is enforced by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.
This is a timeline of key events including significant legislation, activists' actions, and the founding of various organizations related to the Disability Rights Movement.
1864 - Congress authorized the GallaudetInstitution to confer college degrees, and President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law. Gallaudet was made president of the entire corporation, including the college.
The focus of activists for the rights of people with physical disabilities began with access to public and private buildings and general accommodation of people who are less mobile or dexterous. In particular, they advocate the inclusion of wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, wide doors and corridors, and the elimination of unnecessary steps where ramps and elevators are not available.
While physical access remains an ongoing need,in the United States, other needs were raised and became elements in the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 such as employment and transportation.
Advocates for the rights of people with developmental disabilities focus their efforts on gaining acceptance in the workforce and in everyday activities and events from which they might have been excluded in the past.
Unlike many of the leaders in the physical disability rights community, self-advocacy has been slow in developing for people with developmental disabilities. Public awareness of the civil rights movement for this population remains limited, and the stereotyping of people with developmental disabilities as non-contributing citizens who are dependent on others remains common.
One of the most widely recognized and publicized protest involved with the movement was the sit-ins at the department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) buildings around the nation in April 1977. On April 5, 1977, activists began to demonstrate and some sat-in in the offices found in ten of the federal regions including New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. The two most noteworthy protests occurred in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The protesters demanded the signing of regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
There were about 300 people in Washington, D.C. who marched to and then demonstrated inside the HEW building where Secretary Joseph Califano–s office was. He was the man who was to sign the regulations, but was delaying the process. Although he met with a few protest representatives, including Frank Bowe, he still did not sign. This action led many protesters to continue their sit-in overnight, but they then left after 28 hours.
The more successful sit-in occurred in San Francisco, led by Judith Heumann. The first day of protests marked the first of a 25-day sit-in. Close to 120 disability activists and protesters occupied the HEW building. Califano finally signed on April 28, 1977.
This protest was significant not only because its goal was achieved, but also because it was the foremost concerted effort between people of different disabilities coming together in support of legislation that affected the overall disability population, rather than only specific groups.
Another significant protest related to disability rights was the Deaf President Now protest of the Gallaudet University students in Washington, D.C. in March 1988. The 8-day (March 6 – March 13) demonstration and occupation and lock-out of the school began when the Board of Trustees appointed a new hearing President, Elisabeth Zinser, over two deaf candidates. The students– primary grievance was that the university, which was dedicated to the education of the hearing-impaired, has never had a deaf president, someone representative of them. Of the protesters– four demands, the main one was the resignation of the current president and the appointment of a deaf one. The student demonstration consisted of about 2,000 participants who were not just students. The protests not only took place on campus, but they also took it to government buildings and marched through the streets. In the end, all the students– demands were met and I. King Jordan was appointed the first Deaf President of the university.
Other important protests were held in Denver, Colorado. Disability rights activist there, organized by the Atlantis Community, held a sit-in and blockade of the Denver Regional Transit Authority buses in 1978. They were protesting the fact that city–s transit system was completely inaccessible for the physically disabled. This action proved to be just the first in a series of civil disobedience demonstrations that lasted for a year until the Denver Transit Authority finally bought buses equipped with wheelchair lifts.
In 1983, the 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.
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