Disability History Month: Oct 2015

As we near the end of October, full of halloween treats and fall leaves, I wanted to take a second to talk about Disability History Month. Some history we all know. Like that the ADA was passed 25 years ago in 1990 by George HW Bush. We know about the capital crawl and the 504 sit ins. But what about the decades and centuries before that. People fighting back from being institutionalized, gender discrimination in mental health care, children being abandoned by their parents due to their disability, and rampant poverty among disabled people. Disabled slaves were treated very badly before the civil war and their masters might force them to work hard cruel work despite their disability. If that couldn’t be done, these slaves would be locked up and institutionalized where they were thought of as the lowest of the low, not only were they disabled but they were also black. Women met a similar fate in that their behavior was controlled by men and anything out of line was deemed “hysterical” and they were institutionalized. Disabled children were abandoned by their parents, and infanticide was an appropriate practice until the early 20th century. We also have had plenty of successful disabled people, including at least two presidents. FDR is the most commonly cited example, he had leg problems due to polio and used a wheelchair. However, JFK had chronic illnesses too, Addison’s disease and some other illness. We have disabled actresses and actors too, from modern examples like Selena Gomez, RJ Mitte, and Lauren Potter to people like Christopher Reeve and Marlee Matlin who was the first deaf woman to win the best actress Oscar. Disabled people have made impacts everywhere from stage to the classroom, from science to history, and we will continue to win battles and make history in the coming years, fighting for inclusion and acceptance everywhere.



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