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A Disability Dossier
Herewith, beginning in 1948, the year he was born, is a timeline of major signposts along the journey of the disability movement annotated with the help of Richard Pimentel


I was born in 1948. At that time, people with disabilities were for the most part hidden. Families were not socially active. If you had a child with a disability you pretty much kept them in your house. At that time the polio problem was manifesting itself and everyone was terrified that the kids would get polio. And so no one was interested in seeing anyone with polio, probably for the same reason that football players don't want to see anyone carried off the screen.

There was no mainstream for the disabled. If they went to school, you went to a specialized school. They had some deaf school, some blind schools, not much other than that.

Right after WWII, many of the returning soldiers came back disabled, amputees. Hollywood reflected this in movies such as "Best Years of Our Lives,” with Dana Andrews. Harold Russell was an actor with an artificial arm and two hooks portrayed in it. That was the first time disability was portrayed in a sympathetic way.

Harold Russell in "The Best Years of Our Lives” for which he won an Academy® Award. Before that, they were portrayed by Hollywood as hapless villains ("Hunchback of Notre Dame,” "Portrait of Dorian Gray”)

Some states had laws on the books that were reminiscent of the Jim Crow era. The Alabama legislature declared the disabled "a menace to the happiness ... of the community." A Texas law mandated segregation to relieve society of the "heavy economic and moral losses arising from the existence at large of these unfortunate persons."

In Pennsylvania, disabled people officially were termed "anti-social beings;" In Washington, "unfitted for companionship with other children;" in Vermont, a "blight on mankind;" in Wisconsin, a "danger to the race;" and, in Kansas, "a misfortune both to themselves and to the public."

In Indiana, they were required to be "segregate[d] from the world;" while a Utah government report said that a "defect wounds our citizenry a thousand times more than any plague;" and, in South Dakota, they simply did not have the "rights and liberties of normal people."

People with disabilities were to be feared; children were to be hidden. Jobs available were "designated jobs” ones in which what disability you had dictated what kind of work you would do – blind piano tuners, deaf riveters.

Fifties and early sixties

The first part of the movement was a WWII veterans' movement to push the physical disability issues. But emotional disabilities, mental illness, learning disabilities, these kinds of things were pretty much in the closet.

The history of independent living – a philosophy which states that people with disabilities should have the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their own lives as do people without disabilities -- is closely tied to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s among African Americans. Basic issues -- disgraceful treatment based on bigotry and erroneous stereotypes in housing, education, transportation, and employment -- and the strategies and tactics are very similar. This history and its driving philosophy also have much in common with other political and social movements of the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were at least five movements that influenced the disability rights movement.

Late sixties

When I went to Vietnam and came back, what I saw was we had post-traumatic stress … they were just beginning to understand that. Vietnam was a limb war – lots of arms and legs, an awful lot of legs. When I came back, I looked around and I saw that people with disabilities – I was living in<


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