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Disability Pride Month

July is Disability Pride Month. During this month we honor the disability community’s history, achievements, and experiences. This article is excerpted from Building a Promise: A History of the United States from 1865 to Present.

Jesse Jackson shaking hands with disability advocate Justin Dart Jr., who is in a wheelchair, during a hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor on a bill which became the Americans with Disabilities Act.

People with Disabilities Work for Equality

During the Civil Rights Movement, another group began pushing for equality in the United States: people with disabilities.

People with physical or mental disabilities often struggled to find work and housing because of discrimination. After years of protests, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It prevents discrimination against disability in federal government jobs. Five years later, the government created the National Council on Disability to make recommendations to Congress, the president, and other agencies about disability rights.

In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), perhaps the most important civil rights legislation for people with disabilities. The ADA guarantees people with disabilities equal access to employment, housing, transportation, and government services.

Several other laws have since been passed to protect the rights of those with disabilities.

Biographical Portrait: Judy Heumann (1947–2023)

Judith_Heumann,_from-_Ambassadors_Kennedy_Greets_Sp._Advisor_for_Disability_Rights_Heumann_in_Tokyo_-_Flickr_-_East_Asia_and_Pacific_Media_Hub_(1)_(cropped)Judy Heumann spent her life advocating for the rights of disabled people. Shortly after her birth, she contracted polio, a disease that affects the central nervous system and the muscles. At the time, there was no effective vaccine for the disease. Heumann began using a wheelchair at an early age. Due to this need, she was not allowed to attend school. Officials said she was a fire hazard because she could not walk unassisted. And so began her lifelong fight for disabled people's rights.

Heumann cofounded and led Disability in Action, a group with which she led a sit-in protesting Richard Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Along with 80 other protesters, she brought traffic on Madison Avenue to a standstill. She also led the longest sit-in at a federal building. The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare had refused to sign an important part of the Rehabilitation Act. Led by Heumann and supported by the Black Panthers, more than 100 people refused to leave the department’s San Francisco office. After 28 days, the secretary signed the documents, introducing the first federal civil rights for people with disabilities.

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