Skip to Main Content

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States: Civil Rights for the Disabled

This guide focuses on the civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States.

Introduction to Civil Rights for the Disabled

The fight for rights for disabled people slowly took shape in the United States, beginning in the early 1800s.  Well-known persons such as Louis Braille and later, Helen Keller, made significant individual progress, and helped to focus attention on the issue of rights for disabled Americans.  Gradually, local and statewide organizations were formed, where mostly family and friends took up the charge. The first national organization for disabled rights was founded in 1880--The National Association of the Deaf.  Early 20th-century legislation and litigation regarding disabled persons involved awards to governmental or other organizational bodies to encourage or reward programs for the handicapped.  For example, during the 1930s, The Social Security Act provided funds to states for assistance to blind individuals and disabled children.  In the '40s, President Truman signed the National Mental Health Act, which called for the establishment of a National Institute of Mental Health, and The American Federation of the Physically Handicapped became the first cross-disability national rights for the disabled organization.  In the 50s, the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education picked up the momentum of the disability rights movement.  And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave the movement a goal.


Selected Library Resources:

  • Doris Zames Fleischer, The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, HV1553 .F58 2001
  • Patricia C. Kuszler and Christy T. Ibrahim, Discussions on Disability Law and Policy, KF480 .D576 2014
  • Paul K. Longmore and Lauri Umansky, The New Disability History: American PerspectivesHV1553 .N48 2001
  • Allison C. Carey, On the Margins of Citizenship: Intellectual Disability and Civil Rights in Twentieth-Century America, HV3006.A4 C367 2009
  • Susan M. Schweik, The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public, KF480 .S39 2009
  • Laura F. Rothstein and Julia Irzyk, Disabilities and the Law, KF480 .R67 201


Additional Resources: