As with most major social changes or phenomena, the Independent Living (IL) movement did not happen over night in the U.S. The history of the independent living movement in the United States can be traced back to as early as the 1850s, when deaf people began establishing local organizations to advocate for their interests. These local groups merged into the National Association for the Deaf in 1880.
Protesting can be traced back to the depression years in the 1930’s. The League of the Physically Handicapped held protests against the federal government for discrimination against disabled people in federal programs.
The National Federation of the Blind and the American Federation of the Physically Handicapped were organized in the early 1940s. Disabled soldiers returning from World War II established the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
The Independent Living Movement grew out of the Disability Rights Movement, which began in the 1960s. And the Disability Rights Movement was closely tied to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Both movements share basic issues — disgraceful treatment as a result of bigotry and mistaken stereotypes in housing, education, transportation, and employment — and their strategies and tactics are very similar.
The history of the independent living movement and its driving philosophy also have much in common with other political and social movements that flourished the late 1960s and early 1970s. At least five parallel and transformative social movements influenced and energized the disability rights and independent living movement during the second half of the 20th century.
Timeline of the Independent Living Movement
Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, and creed — later, gender was added as a protected class.
The Physically Disabled Students Program is founded by Ed Roberts, John Hessler, Hale Zukas and others at the University of California at Berkeley
Urban Mass Transit Act requires that all new mass transit vehicles be equipped with wheelchair lifts. As mentioned earlier, it was twenty years, primarily because of machinations of the American Public Transit Association (APTA), before the p art of the law requiring wheelchair lifts was implemented.
The first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. These Centers were created to offer peer support and role modeling, and are run and controlled by persons with disabilities. This Center became the model for hundreds of independent learning programs across the United States.
Congress passes a rehabilitation bill which is vetoed by President Richard Nixon. Judy Heumann, an early leader for disability rights, stages a sit-in on Madison avenue.
Congress overrides Nixon’s veto and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 becomes law. Passage of this pivotal law was the beginning of the ongoing fight for implementation and revision of the law according to the vision of independent living advocates and disability rights activists. Key language prohibits discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funding.
Ed Roberts becomes the director of the California Department of Rehabilitation
Wade Blank founded the Atlantis Community, a model for community-based, consumer-controlled, Independent Living.
Developmental Disabilities Bill of Rights Act among other things, establishes Protection and Advocacy (P & A).
Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) requires free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible for children with disabilities. This law is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments provides for consumer-controlled centers for independent living and creates the National Council of the Handicapped.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) founded in Berkeley, CA
First ten states receive Title VII funding through the Rehabilitation Act
U.S. Supreme Court rules that, under Section 504 of the Rehab Act, programs receiving federal funds must make “reasonable modifications”
Max Starkloff, Charlie Carr, and Marca Bristo founded the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL).
American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) is organized
Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann and Joan Leon found the World Institute on Disability in Oakland, California
Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act provides for the Client Assistance Program (CAP), an advocacy program for consumers of rehabilitation and independent living services.
National Council on the Handicapped issues Toward Independence, citing the need for federal civil rights legislation (eventually passed as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990)
Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL) founded
Civil Rights Restoration Act counteracts bad case law by clarifying Congress’ original intention that under the Rehabilitation Act, discrimination in ANY program or service that is a part of an entity receiving federal funding — not just the part which actually and directly receives the funding — is illegal.
Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and provides for equal access to air transportation services.
Fair Housing Amendments Act prohibits discrimination in housing against people with disabilities and families with children. Also provides for architectural accessibility of certain new housing units, renovation of existing units, and accessibility modifications at the renter’s expense.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed by President George HW Bush on July 26 in a ceremony on the White House lawn provides comprehensive civil rights protection for people with disabilities; closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and the Section 504 of Title V of the Rehabilitation Act and its regulations.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
ADAPT changes its name to American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today
Workforce Investment Act passed
First Disability Pride Parade held in Chicago and around the country
President Obama marks the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court Olmstead decision by designating 2009 as “The Year of Community Living” dedicated to identifying ways to improve access to housing, community supports and independent living arrangements for older people and people with disabilities.
Department of Justice’s revised regulations for Titles II and III of the ADA known as 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)
The Stephen Beck, Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (the ABLE Act)
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
The ABLE Act is passed. The ABLE Act is federal legislation that aims to ease financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover qualified expenses such as education, housing, and transportation.
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