If you haven’t seen it already, we highly recommend the PBS documentary on Independent Lens called “Lives Worth Living” (see link below). As therapists who have been in the field for many years, we admit to being only vaguely aware of how people with disabilities were “warehoused” (for lack of a better term) until the 1970’s. But this documentary really brought it home, with rare footage of the Willowbrook State School as it existed until 1972 when Geraldo Rivera, then a TV reporter in New York, conducted a series of investigations uncovering the deplorable conditions. Eventually these reports led to a class action lawsuit filed against the state of New York, and the eventual closing of this school.
Subsequently, the Disability Rights Movement was spawned, based on the Civil Rights and Women’s Movement models. This movement advocated for people with disabilities to have the right to live dignified, independent lives, where they chose how and where to live, what to eat, what to wear, and when to go to sleep, among other very basic rights. Believe it or not, this was a new concept for that era. The goals of the movement were subsequently expanded for accessibility and safety in transportation, architecture and the environment, as well as equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education.
The Movement made slow progress, at first, and was stymied and stalled by some politicians who were taken by surprise. Eventually the 504 section of the Rehabilitation Act (1973), which prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and any programs receiving federal funds was passed. This was truly the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities. In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, providing the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history.
Here is the link to the documentary …well worth your time and a must see for physical and occupational therapists. Let us know what you think!