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Disability Rights History: A Brief Introduction

Disability rights are universal civil rights and human rights, but these rights are not yet fully realized by society. Though you likely won’t read about it in history textbooks, the disability rights movement, encompassing advocates around the world, has long been pushing for progress and change.

Disability rights work is a global effort. According to Human Rights Watch, many people with disabilities are subjected to “human rights abuses [that] are a result of entrenched stigma and a lack of community-based services essential to ensuring their rights.” In “The Global Disability Rights Movement: Winning Power, Participation, and Access,” Diana Samarasan, founder and director of the Disability Rights Fund, shares insight on more recent global efforts.

In the United States specifically, disability and the movement for disability rights has a rich history. According to The Oxford Handbook of Disability History: “Histories of social movements traditionally describe disability rights as a by-product of the social turmoil of the 1960s. Recent histories of disability, however, reveal a dynamic struggle by disabled citizens and for equal opportunity and civil rights that emerged…beginning in the late nineteenth century.”

We encourage you to take some time to explore this history: