Updated December 2018
For centuries people with disabilities were thought to be helpless, indigent citizens, and were forced into institutions and asylums without equal opportunity or equal protection under the law. The disability rights movement of the 1960s marked a critical turning point with the rise of a grassroots effort that eventually led to the legislative victories of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 (renamed IDEA in 1990) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
Since the inception of ADA, changes have been made to better daily living. Supermarket aisles are wider, schools have ramps and public transportation is more accessible for disabled people. However, despite the fact that people with disabilities represent one of the largest demographic groups in the nation, the disability community continues to face architectural barriers, discriminatory policies, negative attitudes and implicit and explicit biases on a daily basis.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 40.7 million people, or 12.8% of the population had a disability in 2016. Persons without a disability ages 16 to 64 were employed more than double the percentage (65.3%) of persons with a disability (27.7%). Even in the digital age, access to the internet is unequally distributed. Findings of a Pew Research Center survey in 2016 reflect lower rates of daily internet use by individuals who have a disability compared to those without a disability (50% vs. 79%).
As Carol Gill, a chief disability rights advocate, observes, “We have been viewed too much in terms of our diagnoses and too little in terms of our personhood…Most of our problems are caused not by our bodies but by a society that refuses to accommodate our differences.”
The multi-grade lessons included in this curriculum unit seek to challenge myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities and to promote awareness of various forms of disability.