The efforts by people with disabilities to participate fully in society began centuries ago and gained momentum in the 20th century.
Full citizenship entails full inclusion. Citizens successfully challenged legal inequalities around race, culminating in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that struck down legal segregation. In the decades that followed, women, Native Americans, lesbian, bi-sexual, gay and transgender people, Chicanos and Latinos, and other groups pushed to extend the rights of citizenship.
The Disability Rights Movement, organized in the 1970s, has been similar to other movements in important ways. Attitudes needed changing for social change to happen. Paternalism thwarted access to basic rights like education, marriage, work, and housing. Segregation and discrimination contributed to poverty and isolation.
The Disability Rights Movement has been unlike other movements in important ways, however. For social change to occur, architectural barriers also needed changing. Necessary accommodation and services were different than those for other groups. And because disability crosses race, class, and gender, and people came to it in many different ways, affiliations and expectations also varied.
Laura Hershey (1962-2010) was a lifelong disability activist and writer who lived in Denver. This poem captures the importance of advocacy and the motivation behind the work done by disability activists.
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