Following a long and endless history of torture and suffering, the Civil Rights Movement brought a tide of change for the developmentally and intellectually disabled. After World War 2, several soldiers returned home physically disabled, and the President of the time, Franklin Roosevelt, who himself was afflicted with polio put all his efforts behind the rehabilitation of handicapped soldiers. What started off as rehabilitation of the physically disabled soldiers soon led to a full-fledged movement that demanded that the rights of all disable individuals, including developmentally and intellectually disabled people, be addressed satisfactorily.
The Civil Rights Movement eventually gave birth to the Disabilities Right Movement in the 1960’s, bringing disabled people to the forefront and giving them a chance to express their opinions and voice their demands. The 1970’s saw disabled people coming together in protests to demand basic human rights including opportunities for fair employment, education and shelter. A similar movement, called the Independent-Living Movement made the same demands, asking for laws and amenities that allowed the developmentally and intellectually disabled to live their lives independently, instead of being forced to live in institutions and mental hospitals.
The protests and activism resulted in the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 in the United Kingdom. In the USA, the Rehabilitation Act was created in 1973 followed by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1980. In 1990, these acts were passed as the law and the historical event was marked by the Disabilities Pride March in Boston.
The ultimate aim of these acts was to integrate disabled people into the society and they successfully and legally eliminated various psychological, social and medical malpractices that the developmentally disabled had to suffer through for years. They were no longer segregated from the rest of the population and had the same legal and social responsibilities as everyone else. They were allowed in schools with the rest of the community and simultaneously special schools and institutions with trained specialists and experts were set up for them. Jobs were created for the disabled and there were rules and laws against the abuse of ill treatment of developmentally disabled individuals.
Technology was growing during these years and this was effectively used to further solve various problems of the developmentally disabled. Elevators and wheelchairs made life easier and various public facilities were adapted to suit the needs of disabled people. From the beginning of the 1960’s, the developmentally disabled found themselves accepted in society. Technology and laws allowed them to live with some semblance of independence and freedom and this gave them the confidence and strength to lead a life of self respect.
Bobby Harris is a driven, experienced and knowledgeable professional within areas such as healthcare, childhood education,abuse intervention and crisis prevention; organizational leadership and intellectual / developmental disabilities.