Main Conent


Laws are an expression of collective values.

color photograph men women sign disability history america

Laws may not immediately change attitudes but they direct citizens’ behavior. Three of the most significant disability rights laws are:

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

This law guaranteed equal opportunities to people with disabilities and committed the federal government to affirmative actions on their behalf.

The 1975 Public Law 94-142

Popularly known as the IDEA Law. This law broke the routine of institutionalization and the limitations of "special education" by guaranteeing every student "a free and appropriate education … in the least restrictive environment."

The 1990 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)

This landmark legislation provided sweeping civil rights protections for people with disabilities, who had not been included in important legislation such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

It is one of the most significant civil rights documents of the 20th century. Its purpose was to end discrimination and reduce the barriers to employment and education for people with disabilities. The ADA’s importance lies in how it led to the re-shaping of the physical environment and to communications access, and in the passion of the thousands of people who struggled for the rights embodied in it.

Immigration laws singled out people with disabilities. For example, although Martha’s Vineyard had a thriving community of English immigrants with a recessive gene for deafness who had settled there in the 1630s, in 1701 the colonial Massachusetts government passed the first of many laws preventing "lame, impotent or infirm persons, or those incapable of supporting themselves" from settlement. Such exclusionary laws forced families to either leave a member behind, fake “normalcy,” or risk deportation. Most bans based on race and ethnicity have been removed, but restrictions based on disability continue to this day.