The Disability Rights Movement
“We have been excluded from society as if we were contagious, exploited by charities that use poster children as icons of pity, and treated as if physical limitations were proof of demential or intellectual inferiority.” – Lana Hartman Landon, 1977
On April 5, 1977, handicapped Americans demonstrated throughout major cities in protest to the failed implementation of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. While the act was signed years earlier in 1973, no action was taken on the part of the United States government to provide the accommodations outlined on the part of disabled Americans. The accommodations were to end discrimination for any program or activity receiving federal funds. By 1977, leaders in the disabled community, led by the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD), decided they needed to take action themselves if they were to see any changes made.
Throughout Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle, individuals protested at their local Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) offices. In Washington D.C., the goal was to confront then-Secretary of HEW, Joseph Califano and demand he implement 504. The most successful protest, however, occurred in San Francisco, where the handicapped community occupied the sixth floor of the HEW office for twenty-five days, compromising the most significant collective action among disabled Americans for civil rights.
While the 1977 San Francisco sit-in marked an unprecedented moment in the history of the Disability Rights Movement (DRM), it is just one instance of a community coming together to fight for equality. This site is a discussion of the events that led to 1977 and the continuous struggle for rights and accommodations that the disabled community continues to face.