Timeline of disability rights in the United States

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This disability rights timeline lists events relating to the civil rights of people with disabilities in the United States of America, including court decisions, the passage of legislation, activists' actions, significant abuses of people with disabilities, and the founding of various organizations. Although the disability rights movement itself began in the 1960s, advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities started much earlier and continues to the present.


18th century

19th century

"that every man is to be presumed to be sane, and... that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong." [4] :632 The rules so formulated as M'Naghten's Case 1843 10 C & F 200 [5] have been a standard test for criminal liability in relation to mentally disordered defendants in common law jurisdictions ever since, with some minor adjustments. When the tests set out by the Rules are satisfied, the accused may be adjudged "not guilty by reason of insanity" or "guilty but insane" and the sentence may be a mandatory or discretionary (but usually indeterminate) period of treatment in a secure hospital facility, or otherwise at the discretion of the court (depending on the country and the offence charged) instead of a punitive disposal. The insanity defence is recognized in Australia, Canada, England and Wales, Hong Kong, India, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and most U.S. states with the exception of Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Utah, and Vermont [6] but not all of these jurisdictions still use the M'Naghten Rules.


An 18 year-old girl with agitated depression successively had her upper and lower molars extracted, a tonsillectomy, sinus drainage, treatment for an infected cervix, removal of intestinal adhesions—all without effecting improvement in her psychiatric condition. Then the remainder of her teeth were removed and she was sent home, pronounced cured. [24]

Andrew Scull argues that Cotton's obsession with focal sepsis as the root cause of mental illness "persisted in spite of all evidence to the contrary and the frightening incidence of death and harm from the operations he initiated". [24] Cotton's approach attracted some detractors, but the medical establishment of the day did not effectively renounce or discipline him. [24]





There must be evidence of recent behavior to justify the substantial likelihood of serious bodily harm in the near future. Moments in the past, when an individual may have considered harming themselves or another, do not qualify the individual as meeting the criteria. ("Near" means close, short, or draws near.) [72] Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable and occur in over 100 Florida Department of Children and Families-designated receiving facilities statewide. There are many possible outcomes following examination of the patient. This includes the release of the individual to the community (or other community placement), a petition for involuntary inpatient placement (what some call civil commitment), involuntary outpatient placement (what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders), or voluntary treatment (if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment). The involuntary outpatient placement language in the Baker Act took effect as part of the Baker Act reform in 2005.

The psychiatrist "based this conclusion on the girl's lack of emotional control, her consistent low scores in areas of judgment on psychological tests, and the likelihood that she would abuse a child." [76]

On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement. [92]

any individual who (A) has a physical or mental disability which for such individual constitutes or results in a substantial handicap to employment and (B) can reasonably be expected to benefit in terms of employability from vocational rehabilitation services provided pursuant to titles I and III of this Act. [103]

The 1974 amendments substituted a much broader definition of "handicapped individual" applicable to employment by the federal government (Section 501 of the Act), modification or elimination of architectural and transportation barriers (Section 502), employment by federal contractors (section 503) and to programs receiving federal financial assistance (Section 504) that was not related to employability through vocational rehabilitation services. The 1974 amendments clarified that a handicapped individual meant

any person who (A) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (B) has a record of such an impairment, or (C) is regarded as having such an impairment.

Congress adopted that definition in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, substituting the term "disability" for "handicapped." [104]



  1. UPS failed to address communication barriers and to ensure equal conditions and opportunities for deaf employees;
  2. Deaf employees were routinely excluded from workplace information, denied opportunities for promotion, and exposed to unsafe conditions due to lack of accommodations by UPS;
  3. UPS also lacked a system to alert these employees as to emergencies, such as fires or chemical spills, to ensure that they would safely evacuate their facility; and
  4. UPS had no policy to ensure that deaf applicants and employees actually received effective communication in the workplace.

The outcome was that UPS agreed to pay a $5.8 million award and agreed to a comprehensive accommodations program that was implemented in their facilities throughout the country.




See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990</span> 1990 U.S. civil rights law

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal, and later sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, unlike the Civil Rights Act, the ADA also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and imposes accessibility requirements on public accommodations.

The insanity defense, also known as the mental disorder defense, is an affirmative defense by excuse in a criminal case, arguing that the defendant is not responsible for their actions due to a psychiatric disease at the time of the criminal act. This is contrasted with an excuse of provocation, in which the defendant is responsible, but the responsibility is lessened due to a temporary mental state. It is also contrasted with the justification of self defense or with the mitigation of imperfect self-defense. The insanity defense is also contrasted with a finding that a defendant cannot stand trial in a criminal case because a mental disease prevents them from effectively assisting counsel, from a civil finding in trusts and estates where a will is nullified because it was made when a mental disorder prevented a testator from recognizing the natural objects of their bounty, and from involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution, when anyone is found to be gravely disabled or to be a danger to themself or to others.

Skinner v. State of Oklahoma, ex rel. Williamson, 316 U.S. 535 (1942), is a unanimous United States Supreme Court ruling that held that laws permitting the compulsory sterilization of criminals are unconstitutional as it violates a person's rights given under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, specifically the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause. The relevant Oklahoma law applied to "habitual criminals" but excluded white-collar crimes from carrying sterilization penalties.

People with disabilities in the United States are a significant minority group, making up a fifth of the overall population and over half of Americans older than eighty. There is a complex history underlying the U.S. and its relationship with its disabled population, with great progress being made in the last century to improve the livelihood of disabled citizens through legislation providing protections and benefits. Most notably, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that works to protect Americans with disabilities in public settings and the workplace.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rehabilitation Act of 1973</span> United States law

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a United States federal law, codified at 29 U.S.C. § 701 et seq. The principal sponsor of the bill was Rep. John Brademas (D-IN-3). The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 replaces preexisting laws to extend and revise the authorization of grants to States for vocational rehabilitation services, with special emphasis on services to those with the most severe disabilities, to expand special Federal responsibilities and research and training programs with respect to individuals with disabilities, to establish special responsibilities in the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for coordination of all programs with respect to individuals with disabilities within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and for other purposes. It created the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

In United States and Canadian law, competence concerns the mental capacity of an individual to participate in legal proceedings or transactions, and the mental condition a person must have to be responsible for his or her decisions or acts. Competence is an attribute that is decision-specific. Depending on various factors which typically revolve around mental function integrity, an individual may or may not be competent to make a particular medical decision, a particular contractual agreement, to execute an effective deed to real property, or to execute a will having certain terms.

<i>E (Mrs) v Eve</i> Supreme Court of Canada case

E (Mrs) v Eve, [1986] 2 S.C.R. 388 is a judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada regarding a mother's request for the consent of the court to have her disabled daughter sterilized. This was a landmark case which is influential in Canadian legal decisions involving proxy-consented, non-therapeutic medical procedures performed on people of diminished mental capacity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Education for All Handicapped Children Act</span> USA law granting equal access to education for children with disabilities

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. This act required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate children with disabilities and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students. The act was an amendment to Part B of the Education of the Handicapped Act enacted in 1966.

The right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an educational entitlement of all students in the United States who are identified as having a disability, guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Florida State Hospital</span> Hospital in Florida, United States

Florida State Hospital (FSH) is a hospital and psychiatric hospital in Chattahoochee, Florida. Established in 1876, it was Florida's only state mental institution until 1947. It currently has a capacity of 1,042 patients. The hospital's current Administration Building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

An emotional support animal (ESA) is an animal that provides relief to individuals with "psychiatric disability through companionship." Emotional support animals may be any type of pet, and are not recognized as service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), is a United States Supreme Court case regarding discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. The Supreme Court held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with intellectual disabilities have the right to live in the community rather than in institutions if, in the words of the opinion of the Court, "the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer from institutional care to a less restrictive setting is not opposed by the affected individual, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities." The case was brought by the Atlanta Legal Aid Society on behalf of Lois Curtis.

United States v. Georgia, 546 U.S. 151 (2006), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court decided that the protection of Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), passed by the U.S. Congress, extends to persons held in a state prison and protects prison inmates from discrimination on the basis of disability by prison personnel. Specifically, the court held that Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1213112165., is a proper use of Congressional power under the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5, making it applicable to prison system officials.

United States federal laws governing offenders with mental diseases or defects provide for the evaluation and handling of defendants who are suspected of having mental diseases or defects. The laws were completely revamped by the Insanity Defense Reform Act in the wake of the John Hinckley Jr. verdict.

This disability rights timeline lists events outside the United States relating to the civil rights of people with disabilities, including court decisions, the passage of legislation, activists' actions, significant abuses of people with disabilities, and the founding of various organizations. Although the disability rights movement itself began in the 1960s, advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities started much earlier and continues to the present.

According to a 2012 survey by Statistics Canada, around 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being "limited in their daily activities due to a disability". This represented 13.7% of the adult population. The three most-prevalent forms of disability in Canada are chronic pain issues, mobility, and flexibility limitations. Around 11% of Canadian adults experience one of these disability types, and 40% of those people have had all three at the same time. Disabled people in Canada have historically experienced many forms of discrimination and abuse, such as segregation, institutionalization, and compulsory sterilization. They were not given the same rights as non-disabled people until the end of the 1970s, when the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped initiated significant changes. Legislation intended to protect disabled Canadians include the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Employment Equity Act.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924</span> 1924 U.S. state law allowing compulsory sterilization for eugenic purposes

The Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924 was a U.S. state law in Virginia for the sterilization of institutionalized persons "afflicted with hereditary forms of insanity that are recurrent, idiocy, imbecility, feeble-mindedness or epilepsy”. It greatly influenced the development of eugenics in the twentieth century. The act was based on model legislation written by Harry H. Laughlin and challenged by a case that led to the United States Supreme Court decision of Buck v. Bell. The Supreme Court upheld the law as constitutional and it became a model law for sterilization laws in other states. Justice Holmes wrote that a patient may be sterilized "on complying with the very careful provisions by which the act protects the patients from possible abuse." Between 1924 and 1979, Virginia sterilized over 7,000 individuals under the act. The act was never declared unconstitutional; however, in 2001, the Virginia General Assembly passed a joint resolution apologizing for the misuse of "a respectable, 'scientific' veneer to cover activities of those who held blatantly racist views." In 2015, the Assembly agreed to compensate individuals sterilized under the act.

Sterilization law is the area of law, within reproductive rights, that gives a person the right to choose or refuse reproductive sterilization and governs when the government may limit this fundamental right. Sterilization law includes federal and state constitutional law, statutory law, administrative law, and common law. This article primarily focuses on laws concerning compulsory sterilization that have not been repealed or abrogated and are still good laws, in whole or in part, in each jurisdiction.

According to Abilities United, over 16% of Americans are considered to have either a physical, developmental, or learning disability. The barriers that 33.7 million persons with disabilities face within the American electoral process include: access to polling information, physical access to polls, current and future laws that deal with the topic, and the moral implications regarding the varying levels of both physical and cognitive disabilities and the act of voting.


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