My interest in the disability movement was generated by our class discussions on the meanings and constructions of disability. Along with Interdisciplinary Gender and Sexuality Studies, I am currently taking a class at Haverford called Social Movement Theory, where we have discussed how and why movements emerge under certain conditions. Throughout the course of my research on the disability movement, I found that three phenomena were pivotal in accounting for its emergence, expansion, and relative success: organizers managed to build broad and diverse coalitions, garner the support of influential political elites, and spark vast changes in consciousness.
Scholars vary in their estimations of the time period during which the disability movement emerged. The first legislation relating specifically to the disabled was passed after World War I in order to accommodate wounded soldiers returning from Europe. However, a flurry of legislation and organizing activity did not surface until the 1970s alongside other social movements in the United States. The first significant piece of legislation was the 1973 Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 of the bill read,
“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall solely be reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”