Date Published: 1 Dec '22

The History of Disability Rights: From Segregation to Inclusion

The History of Disability Rights: From Segregation to Inclusion

Disability rights have come a long way in the past century, with significant progress made in areas such as accessibility, inclusion, and legal protections. However, this progress has not been easy, and the path towards disability rights has been long and often challenging. Here is a brief history of disability rights in the United States.

Early 20th Century: Segregation and Institutionalization

In the early 1900s, people with disabilities were often institutionalized or segregated from society. They were considered a burden on their families and society and were often subjected to cruel treatments, such as forced sterilization. It wasn't until the 1960s that deinstitutionalization began and people with disabilities were able to leave institutions and live in their communities.

1960s-1970s: The Disability Rights Movement Begins

The disability rights movement began in the 1960s and 1970s. The movement was led by individuals with disabilities who advocated for their rights and worked to change the policies and attitudes that kept them from fully participating in society. One of the first major victories of the movement was the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs that received federal funding.

1980s-1990s: The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 and marked a significant milestone in the disability rights movement. The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.

2000s-Present: Continued Advocacy for Disability Rights

Although significant progress has been made in the past few decades, the disability rights movement continues to advocate for change. Some of the key issues being addressed by disability rights advocates today include improving accessibility in public spaces, ensuring equal access to education and employment, and addressing the intersectionality of disability with other marginalized identities, such as race and gender.


The history of disability rights in the United States has been a long and often challenging journey. From segregation and institutionalization to the passage of the ADA, disability rights advocates have worked tirelessly to promote inclusion and accessibility for individuals with disabilities. However, there is still a long way to go, and it is up to all of us to continue to advocate for the rights and needs of individuals with disabilities.

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