The Disability Rights Movement
Throughout history, many people with disabilities have been discriminated against and have had to fight for basic civil rights. They have been deprived of an education, excluded from employment, and denied rights to living in the communities of choice. The ongoing struggle and embittered battle for civil rights has led to the passage of several laws that impact the education and postsecondary outcomes of people with disabilities. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the most sweeping disability rights legislation in history, gave civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. Its purpose is to end discrimination and educate, rehabilitate and employ individuals with disabilities.
The Disability Rights Movement is an important part of the United States history. The movement amplifies voices of people with disabilities who are insistent on being included in decisions, policies, and institutions which affect their lives directly and indirectly. An understanding of this history is important in that it helps us to recognize the need for legislation and reform. It helps us to understand how negative stereotypes and myths have and will continue to impact the outcomes of people with disabilities.
“We have a moral duty to remove the barriers to participation, and to invest sufficient funding and expertise to unlock the vast potential of people with disabilities.” – Professor Stephen W. Hawking
Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Understanding
Many legislative changes have occurred over the past several decades which have had a positive influence on the services and attitude towards individuals with disabilities. However, more changes need to occur to end discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, the legal system, health care, and the community. Additional barriers that people with disabilities face are others’ attitudes. Disability education brings attitudes to the surface, where they can be examined consciously, so diversity can be appreciated rather than avoided. We must recognize people for their abilities, and collaborate with self-advocates to push for respect and equal status.
Disability History and Awareness Month in Virginia
In honor of removing barriers upholding exclusion, former Governor Timothy Kaine signed into law in 2009 that October be designated Disability History & Awareness Month (DHAM) in Virginia’s public schools and institutions of higher education. This effort was led by a dedicated group of youth leaders with disabilities from Virginia’s Youth Leadership Forum and I’m Determined project who were concerned about what they perceived to be a lack of general awareness of disabilities in schools by peers, educators and staff.
That same group of youth leaders with disabilities approached the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) in 2012 about what could be done in the Commonwealth’s K12 schools to increase awareness of disabilities. They were asked by VDOE to develop a proposal with their own ideas; the result was Inclusion Day. The youth leadership group felt strongly that an activity-based approach with students directly involved in hands-on activities would increase awareness and education in schools, and would become an integral part of Virginia’s celebration of DHAM. The goal of their Inclusion Day project is to increase awareness so people can begin to become more sensitive every day to people with disabilities thus decreasing incidents of bullying, particularly targeted to students with disabilities.