From Native Americans to the ADA: A History of Disabilities in the United States

The Takeaway

People living with disabilities became most visible when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990.
“Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue,” President Bush said. “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
But Americans living with disabilities have a long and varied history in this country, as demonstrated in “A Disability History of the United States,” a  new book by Kim E. Nielsen, professor of history and disability studies at the University of Toledo.
Professor Nielson examines this history from a cultural standpoint, as perceptions of disabilities changed dramatically when Europeans colonized the Americas, and as the country moved toward urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century. Nielson explains how the disabilities movement learned from the Civil Rights movement, and examines the legal battles fought by disabilities advocates over the last century.

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