1918: The Smith-Sears Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Act establishes a federal vocational rehabilitation program for disabled soldiers.
1920: The Fess-Smith Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act is passed, creating a vocational rehabilitation program for disabled civilians.
1921: The American Foundation for the Blind is founded.
1927: Franklin Roosevelt co-founds the Warm Springs Foundation at Warm Springs, Georgia.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Buck v. Bell, rules that the forced sterilization of people with disabilities is not a violation of their constitutional rights.
1929: Seeing Eye establishes the first dog guide school for blind people in the United States.
1932: Disabled American Veterans is chartered by Congress to represent disabled veterans in their dealings with the federal government.
1936: Passage of the Randolph Sheppard Act establishes a federal program for employing blind vendors at stands in the lobbies of federal office buildings.
1937: Herbert A. Everest and Harry C. Jennings patent a design for a folding wheelchair with an X-frame that can be packed into a car trunk.
1940: The National Federation of the Blind is formed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, by Jacobus ten Broek and other blind advocates.
The American Federation of the Physically Handicapped is founded by Paul Strachan as the nation's first cross-disability, national political organization.
1944: Howard Rusk is assigned to the U.S. Army Air Force Convalescent Center in Pawling, New York, where he begins a rehabilitation program for disabled airmen. First dubbed "Rusk's Folly" by the medical establishment, rehabilitation medicine becomes a new medical specialty.
1945: President Harry Truman signs a joint congressional resolution calling for the creation of an annual National Employ the Handicapped Week.
1960: The first Paralympic Games, under the auspices of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), are held in Rome, Italy.
1961: The American Council of the Blind is formally organized.
The American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) publishes American Standard Specifications for Making Buildings Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped.
1962: Edward V. Roberts becomes the first severely disabled student at the University of California at Berkeley.
1963: South Carolina passes the first statewide architectural access code.
1964: Robert H. Weitbrecht invents the "acoustic coupler," enabling teletypewriter messages to be sent via standard telephone lines. This invention makes possible the widespread use of teletypewriters for the deaf.
1968: The Architectural Barriers Act is passed, mandating that federally constructed buildings and facilities be accessible to people with physical disabilities. This act is generally considered to be the first ever federal disability rights legislation.
1970: Congress passes the Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act, declaring it a "national policy that elderly and handicapped persons have the same right as other persons to utilize mass transportation facilities and services." The law contains no provision for enforcement.
1971: The National Center for Law and the Handicapped is founded at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, becoming the first legal advocacy center for people with disabilities in the United States.
1973: The first handicap parking stickers are introduced in Washington, D.C.
The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board is established under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to enforce the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
1974:Halderman v. Pennhurst is filed in Pennsylvania on behalf of the residents of the Pennhurst State School Hospital. The case, highlighting the horrific conditions at state "schools" for people with mental retardation, becomes an important precedent in the battle for deinstitutionalization, establishing a right to community services for people with developmental disabilities.
The first convention of People First is held in Salem, Oregon. People First becomes the largest U.S. organization composed of and led by people with cognitive disabilities.
North Carolina passes a statewide building code with stringent access requirements drafted by access advocate Ronald Mace. This code becomes a model for effective architectural access legislation in other states. Mace founds Barrier Free Environments to advocate for accessibility in buildings and products.
1975: Congress passes the Developmentally Disabled Assistance and Bill of Rights Act, providing federal funds to programs serving people with developmental disabilities and outlining a series of rights for those who are institutionalized. The lack of an enforcement mechanism within the bill and subsequent court decisions will, however, render this portion of the act virtually useless to disability rights advocates.
1975: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Pub. Law 94-142) is passed, establishing the right of children with disabilities to a public school education in an integrated environment. The act is a cornerstone of federal disability rights legislation. In the next two decades, millions of disabled children will be educated under its provisions, radically changing the lives of people in the disability community.
The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities is founded. It becomes the preeminent national cross-disability rights organization of the 1970s.
The Association of Persons with Severe Handicaps (TASH) is founded by special education professionals responding to PARC v. Pennsylvania (1972) and subsequent right-to-education cases. The organization will eventually call for the end of aversive behavior modification and the closing of all residential institutions for people with disabilities.
1976: Passage of an amendment to Higher Education Act of 1972 provides services to physically disabled students entering college.
The Disability Rights Center is founded in Washington, D.C. Sponsored by Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law; it specializes in consumer protection for people with disabilities.
1977: President Jimmy Carter appoints Max Cleland to head the U.S. Veterans Administration, making Cleland the first severely disabled (as well as the youngest) person to fill that position.
The White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals brings together 3,000 disabled people to discuss federal policy toward people with disabilities. This first ever gathering of its kind results in numerous recommendations and acts as a catalyst for grassroots disability rights organizing.
Passage of the Legal Services Corporation Act Amendments adds financially needy people with disabilities to the list of those eligible for publicly funded legal services.
1978: Disability rights activists in Denver stage a sit-in demonstration, blocking several Denver Regional Transit Authority buses to protest the complete inaccessibility of that city's mass transit system.
Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 establishes the first federal funding for independent living and creates the National Council of the Handicapped under the U.S. Department of Education.
On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System is published. Written by Judi Chamberlin, it becomes a standard text of the psychiatric survivor movement.
1979: Funding of the first ten independent living centers funded through the Rehabilitation Act.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Southeastern Community College v. Davis, rules that, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, programs receiving federal funds must make "reasonable modifications" to enable the participation of otherwise qualified disabled individuals. This decision is the Court's first ruling on Section 504, and it establishes reasonable modification as an important principle in disability rights law.
Marilyn Hamilton, Jim Okamoto and Don Helman produce their "Quickie" lightweight folding wheelchair, revolutionizing manual wheelchair design.
1979: The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is founded in Berkeley, California, becoming the nation's preeminent disability rights legal advocacy center and participating in much of the landmark litigation and lobbying of the 1980s and 1990s.
1980: Disabled Peoples' International is founded in Singapore, with the participation of advocates from Canada and the United States.
1981: The International Year of Disabled Persons begins with speeches before the United Nations General Assembly. During the year, governments are encouraged to sponsor programs bringing people with disabilities into the mainstream of their societies.
In an editorial in the New York Times, Evan Kemp, Jr., attacks the Jerry Lewis National Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, writing that "the very human desire for cures can never justify a television show that reinforces a stigma against disabled people."
1981-1984: The parents of "Baby Doe" in Bloomington, Indiana, are advised by their doctors to deny a surgical procedure to unblock their newborn's esophagus because the baby has Down syndrome. Although disability rights activists try to intervene, Baby Doe starves to death before legal action can be taken. The case prompts the Reagan administration to issue regulations calling for the creation of "Baby Doe squads" to safeguard the civil rights of disabled newborns.
The Telecommunications for the Disabled Act mandates telephone access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people at important public places, such as hospitals and police stations, and that all coin-operated phones are hearing aid-compatible by January 1985. It also calls for state subsidies for production and distribution of TDDs (telecommunications devices for the deaf), more commonly referred to as TTYs.
1983: American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) is organized at the Atlantis Community headquarters in Denver, Colorado. For the next seven years ADAPT conducts a civil disobedience campaign against the American Public Transit Association (APTA) and various local public transit authorities to protest the lack of accessible public transportation.
The United Nations expands the International Year of Disabled Persons into the International Decade of Disabled Persons, to last from 1983 to 1992.
1984: George Murray becomes the first wheelchair athlete to be featured on the Wheaties cereal box.
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act mandates that polling places be accessible or that ways be found to enable elderly and disabled people to exercise their right to vote. Advocates find that the act is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
1985: The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, that localities cannot use zoning laws to prohibit group homes for people with developmental disabilities from opening in a residential area solely because its residents are disabled.
The National Association of Psychiatric Survivors is founded.
Mental Illness Bill of Rights Act is passed.
1986: The Air Carrier Access Act is passed, prohibiting airlines from refusing to serve people simply because they are disabled and from charging them more for airfare than non-disabled travelers.
The National Council on the Handicapped issues Toward Independence, a report outlining the legal status of Americans with disabilities, documenting the existence of discrimination and citing the need for federal civil rights legislation (what will eventually be passed as the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).
Concrete Change, a grassroots organization advocating for accessible housing, is organized in Atlanta, Georgia. The Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act is passed, setting up protection and advocacy agencies for people who are in-patients or residents of mental health facilities.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 define supported employment as a "legitimate rehabilitation outcome."
1987: The US. Supreme Court, in School Board of Nassau County,Fla. v. Arline, outlines the rights of people with contagious diseases under Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It establishes that people with infectious diseases cannot be fired from their jobs
1988: Students at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., organize a week-long shut-down and occupation of their campus to demand selection of a deaf president after the Gallaudet board of trustees appoints a non-deaf person as president of the university. On March 13, the Gallaudet administration announces that I. King Jordan will be the university's first deaf president.
1988: The Technology-Related Assistance Act for Individuals with Disabilities is passed, authorizing federal funding to state projects designed to facilitate access to assistive technology.
The Fair Housing Amendments Act adds people with disabilities to those groups protected by federal fair housing legislation and establishes minimum standards of adaptability for newly constructed multiple-dwelling housing.
Congress overturns President Ronald Reagan's veto of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987. The act undoes the Supreme Court decision in Grove City v. Bell and other decisions limiting the scope of federal civil rights law, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
1989: The Center for Universal Design (originally the Center for Accessible Housing) is founded by Ronald Mace in Raleigh, North Carolina.
1990:The Americans with Disabilities Act is signed by President George Bush on July 26 in a ceremony on the White House lawn witnessed by thousands of disability rights activists. The law is the most sweeping disability rights legislation in history, for the first time bringing full legal citizenship to Americans with disabilities. It mandates that local, state, and federal governments and programs are accessible, that businesses with more than 15 employees make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled workers, that public accommodations such as restaurants and stores make "reasonable modifications" to ensure access for disabled members of the public. The act also mandates access in public transportation, communication and other areas of public life.
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act is passed to help localities cope with the burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act is amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).