Written by Jason S. Planck 2011©
The history of disability civil rights can be dated back to when bills were introduced in 1917 & 1918 to provide rehabilitation for World War 1 veterans. Then that bill was amended to include the civilian disability population with a bill pass called Smith-Fess Act (Public Law 66-236) on June 2, 1920 by the President Woodrow Wilson administration.
With several changes over the years, rehabilitation was to include World War 2 Veterans in the 1940’s.
In the 1950’s several benefits were added for persons with a disability but segregation was still the norm even after the passage of the 1954 US Supreme Court Decision Brown v. Board of Education.
In the 1960’s several departments of rehabilitation were created, and pass the 1968 Architectural Barrier Act Public Law 90-480 was pass to prevent discrimination in Federal buildings and employment.
In the 1970’s several other laws were passed including the 1973 Rehabilitation Act Section 504 Public Law 93-112 to prevent discrimination in Federal funded programs and employment, and the 1975 Children with Disability Act to prevent discrimination in the educational system for children with a disability.
In the 1980’s disability as a civil right really took hold. Also during this period, the 1988 Civil Rights Restoration Act was passed, overturning two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Grove City College v. Bell (465 U.S. 555 (1984)) and Consolidated Rail Corporation v. LeStrange Darrone (465 U.S. 102 (1984)), and a Presidential veto in order to pass it. Also the Executive Branch and Congress had started hearings to form the idea of comprehensive disability civil rights.
This resulted in the passing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act Public Law 101-336 on July 26, 1990. In 1990 Congress corrected another wrong. With the 1975 Children with Disability Act, the educational system was segregating the children with a disability and not mainstreaming, them so it passed the 1990 IDEA Act to prevent this type of discrimination. Over the 1990’s many changes took place but overall attitudes towards persons with a disability had not reached the dream of the authors of the ADA (see the 1998 Civil Rights commission report).
In the 2000’s disability communities made some steps forward and some steps back, with several U.S. Supreme Court decisions. The steps forward included PGA Tour inc. v. Martin 532 U.S. 661 121 S. Ct. 1879 (2001)), State of Tennessee, v George Lane Beverly Jones and United States of America May 2004. The steps backward included (Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett 531 U.S. 356 (2001)), Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. W. VA Dep’t of Health and Human Res (532 U. S. 598, 121 S. Ct. 1835 (2001)), just to name a few.