History of Disability

Disability has existed since the beginning of time, but it has been perceived and responded to in many different ways. These sites fascinate, horrify, and help make sense of where we’ve come from and where we’re going.

504 Sit-In 20th Anniversary
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited programs receiving federal funds from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. This site provides information and photos about the history of the law.

Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project
“History Project is a four-hour documentary radio series about the shared experience of people with disabilities and their families since the beginning of the 19th century. This Web site includes excerpts from the Shows as well as many of the primary source documents – extended interviews, images, and texts- from which the on-air programs were developed.” A winner from National Public Radio.

A Chronology of the Disability Rights Movement
This timeline from San Francisco State University’s Office of Human Relations’ Disability Programs Unit begins in 1817.

Disability History Museum
The mission of this cybermuseum “is to promote understanding about the historical experience of people with disabilities by recovering, chronicling, and interpreting their stories.” There are supposed to be three main components: the museum, the library, and education. As of this writing (11/30/01), only the library was “open” – but it was well worth the visit! It currently includes two collections: a well-organized, documented, full-text collection of historical documents, and a collection of visual stills (photographs, paintings, postcards, lithographs, etc.)

Disability Social History Project
Presented as “an opportunity for disabled people to reclaim our history and determine how we want to define ourselves and our struggles,” this fascinating site includes an overview of disability in history, timelines, famous people, bibliographies, and links. Whether you’re interested in famous personalities in the history of disability or want to learn more about 19th century “freak shows,” you’re sure to find something here.

History of Independent Living
This short review from the Dayton, Ohio Access Center covers relevant social movements, ADAPT, civil rights laws, and leaders.

The Museum of DisAbility History
“Dedicated to the collection, preservation, and display of artifacts pertaining to the history of people with disabilities,” this museum in Buffalo, New York, and on the World Wide Web, offers a variety of online educational exhibits and activities. When we last visited in November 2001, there were exhibits of “The Birth of Newborn Screening” and “Idiocy in America: The Path to the Institution 1850-1920.” The site also includes information about some of the museum’s collections and services.

The History of the ADA: A Movement Perspective
From The Empowerment Zone, a history of the Americans with Disabilities Act by Arlene Mayerson.

Resources on the History of Idiocy
Its awful title notwithstanding, this personal site includes a wealth of historical resources, including bibliographies, online texts, and links to online texts on other sites, articles, and more.

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Virtual Exhibitions – The Disability Rights Movement
We heard lots of good things about this exhibit in the “real” (physical) Smithsonian, and now you can see them online. The website is based on the accessible kiosks developed for the “real” facility. It is easy to navigate and features text, photos, and ephemera of the disability rights movement.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
These articles from the museum’s website explore the horrors of the holocaust as they affected people with disabilities.
The Mentally and Physically Handicapped: Victims of the Nazi Era
The Murder of the Handicapped

Related Subjects
Disability Awareness
Disability Studies
Disability Resources By State