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Explore Disabilities: History


Montage of people with developmental disabilites during different times in history.

A History of Developmental Disabilities offers a timeline of societal attitudes and milestones surrounding developmental disabiliy, from ancient times to future possibilites.


Students protesting

Deaf President Now (DPN) was a student protest held at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C. in 1988. When the school began searching for a new president, the hiring of a hearing applicant was announced, students, alumni, faculty, and staff closed down the University in protest. 


People with disabilities climbing the steps leading to the U.S. Capitol building

The 1990 "Capitol Crawl" protest dramatized the barriers that inaccessible buildings create for people with disabilities.


Centuries before we had American Sign Language, Native sign languages, broadly known as “Hand Talk,” were thriving across North America. Hand Talk would be influential in the formation of American Sign Language.


Black and white photographic portrait of President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability, made intellectual disabilities a priority for his administration. In 1963, President Kennedy signed the Maternal and Child Health and Mental Retardation Planning Amendment to the Social Security Act, the first major legislation to combat mental illness and intellectual disabilities. 


The Americans with Disabilities Act journey began in the United States when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities. How did protecting the rights of those with disabilities become a matter of discrimination law rather than an issue of social welfare?


Man in wheelchair with protester holding sign for civil rights for the disabled

Ed Roberts, paralyzed from the neck down at age 14, organized students with severe physical disabilities at UCBerkley in 1962. They became known as the Rolling Quads and were the first disabled-student-led campus organization in the U.S. Roberts is known as the “father of the independent living movement” and he helped change the world’s view of people with disabilities through his activism and community building.