Vintage news: Having a disability in America

by Patty Templeton

We’ve gotten to where we can call agree that “Hopeless Cripple Now Supports Her Family” would be an inappropriate headline today, but it’s been a long road to get here.

1770: Stephen Hopkins brings light to people with disabilities being perfectly capable of holding positions of power. He had cerebral palsy, was the governor of Rhode Island, and when he signed the Declaration of Independence he said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

1817: The Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons opens, America’s first permanent school for those with hearing disabilities.

1829: The French educator Louis Braille invents his system of reading and writing for blind and visually impaired folks. It reaches America in 1860.

1887: The intrepid reporter Nellie Bly releases “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” which exposes the horrifying conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. This prompts a grand jury investigation into the treatment of the institutionalized and an increase in budget for the Department of Public Charities and Corrections in New York.

1907: A massive set back. Indiana is the first state to establish eugenic sterilization laws that enable the state to sterilize “confirmed idiots, imbeciles and rapists” without their consent. It brings up ethical questions about population, body control, and who deserves to live freely. Eugenics are then used by the Nazis to annihilate wide swaths of humanity.

1921: Franklin Delano Roosevelt is partially paralyzed by polio. His disability doesn’t hamper his will to give the world what-for and he becomes America’s beloved 32nd president. He drives the country out of the Great Depression and steers us through WWII.

July 4, 1939: The first Lou Gehrig Day. It honors the Yankee’s famous first baseman, whose diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis brings wide public attention and study to ALS.

1965: Medicare and Medicaid are established through the Social Security Amendments of 1965. This provides federally-subsidized healthcare for Americans with disabilities and the elderly.

1972: The Paralyzed Veterans of America and other organizations files suit against the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority to add in accessibility to their design for a multi-billion dollar subway. Their victory is a landmark case in the accessibility of public transit.

2004: The first Disability Pride Parade is held in Chicago, honoring and empowering those with disabilities.

For more information on civil rights, oppression, and empowerment of those with disabilities in America, check out James I. Charlton’s book, “Nothing About Us Without Us.” Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer


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