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Learn Disability History

Black and white image of disability rights activists in a line, with a wheelchair user holding a sign that reads "redirect 25%" and a man standing holding a large U.S. flag with the stars of the flag creating a wheelchair logo.
Image of disability rights activists in 1990 | Photo via PBS Independent Lens

Want to learn more about the history of the disability rights movement in the U.S? Check out these multi-media resources for continued learning and engagement! Please note this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but serves as a starting point to learn more about UW’s 504at50 campaign goals.

Accessible Accordion

  • Before the ADA, There Was Section 504— A New York Times article uplifting the history of disability rights activism that lead to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Article includes photos from the 504 Sit-Ins from 1977.

  • Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution  [1hr 46mins] — An award-winning documentary that tells the story of a groundbreaking summer camp galvanizes a group of teens with disabilities to help build a movement, forging a new path toward greater equality in the U.S.
  • How the ADA Changed the Built World  [12mins] — A highlight reel of Netflix’s Crip Camp reflecting on how the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 accessibility has changed our physical environment.
  • Lives Worth Living  [1hr] — An oral history film highlighting the successes and struggles of charismatic leaders of the U.S. Disability Rights movement.
  • The Gang of 19: ADA Movement [56mins] — In 1978, individuals tossed aside their wheelchairs and blocked city buses deemed inaccessible for the physically disabled. Discover how this one act led to years of advocacy in Colorado and inspired the nation.
  • The Power of 504 [18mins] — An award-winning documentary capturing the emotions and stories of the historic civil right demonstration of people with disabilities in 1977, includes news footage and interviews with participants and leaders.
  • Through Deaf Eyes [1hr 57mins] — Explores nearly 200 years of Deaf life in America and presents broad range of perspectives on what it means to be d/Deaf.

  • A Disability History of the United States, Kim Nielsen — pulls from primary-source documents and social histories to retell US history through the eyes, words, and impressions of the people who lived it. As historian and disability scholar Nielsen argues, to understand disability history isn’t to narrowly focus on a series of individual triumphs but rather to examine mass movements and pivotal daily events through the lens of varied experiences.
  • Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design, Bess Williamson — provides an extraordinary look at everyday design, marrying accessibility with aesthetic, to provide an insight into a world in which we are all active participants, but often passive onlookers. Richly detailed, with stories of politics and innovation, Williamson’s Accessible America takes us through this important history, showing how American ideas of individualism and rights came to shape the material world, often with unexpected consequences.
  • Black Disability Politics, Dr. Sami Schalk — Schalk explores how issues of disability have been and continue to be central to Black activism from the 1970s to the present. Schalk shows how Black people have long engaged with disability as a political issue deeply tied to race and racism. She points out that this work has not been recognized as part of the legacy of disability justice and liberation because Black disability politics differ in language and approach from the mainstream white-dominant disability rights movement.
  • Show Me a Sign, Ann Clare LeZotte — Deaf author Ann Clare LeZotte weaves a riveting story inspired by the true history of a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century. This piercing exploration of ableism, racism, and colonialism will inspire readers to examine core beliefs and question what is considered normal.

  • Deaf President Now History — In March 1988, Gallaudet University experienced a watershed event that led to the appointment of the 124-year-old university’s first Deaf president. Since then, Deaf President Now (DPN) has become synonymous with self-determination and empowerment for deaf and hard of hearing people everywhere.
  • Deaf Historical Resources — A collection of Deaf history resources curated by Gallaudet University and the National Deaf Life Museum
  • Disability History Museum — A comprehensive library of virtual artifacts, education curricula, and museum exhibits, designed to foster research and study about the historical experiences of people with disabilities and their communities.
  • Disability Social History Project — A community project created by intersectional alliance of disability historians and advocates working to establish an accessible public network and database of existing and new disability history resources