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Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Published by Kassi Soulard on

This is a special post written by Charles Warren, Curriculum Developer at Triangle. Charlie is also a member of Triangle’s Racial Equity Committee. As part of our commitment to the work of our Racial Equity Committee, we will be sharing more information with you on subjects related to racial equity and disability justice. This post continues our series dedicated to calling attention to the contributions of people with disabilities to American history.

This year, as we honor the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged, and all victims of injustice, we reflect on the ways in which the disability rights movement was heavily influenced by the civil rights movement. Disability rights activists adopted many of the tactics used during the civil rights movement, such as sit-ins, boycotts, marches, and public demonstrations. 

The most famous sit-in for disability rights occurred in 1977 in San Francisco, when disability rights activist occupied the fourth floor of a federal building for 25 days, demanding the passage of legal protections for people with disabilities.  The disability rights movement framed itself as a struggle for civil rights, demanding equal access to education, employment, and public accommodations. Both movements faced marginalization and discrimination based on perceived differences, which motivated activists.

The passage of legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education laid the legal groundwork for disability rights legislation, namely Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  Many individuals were directly involved in both movements and helped to share experiences and strategies. Civil rights activist Judy Heumann participated in the Selma marches as a young child and was a key figure in the 504 sit-in campaign, among many others. The civil rights movement was a crucial catalyst for the disability rights movement, paving the way for access to inclusion and legal protections for people with disabilities.

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