Disability Rights Advocacy: Key Activists, Advocates, Organizations and Historical events

Introduction

This exhibit aims to shed light on a topic that is often overlooked by society. In our curatorial work, we’ve learned about the unfortunate reality of the limited selection of publicly accessible archival collections that honor the history of disabled communities across the world. Nevertheless, we have curated a selection of artifacts from various collections that provide a context for understanding the ongoing struggle for disability rights, equality, and inclusion. Through this exhibit, we aim to showcase the contributions of various individuals and organizations towards this cause. This exhibit is designed for academics who seek insight into the Disability Rights Movement and the challenges faced by people with disabilities. 

Helen Keller

Helen Keller was an American author, lecturer, and activist born in 1880. At the age of 19 months, she became deaf and blind due to an illness. Despite her disabilities, she became the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor's degree in arts, and became an advocate for the disabled and women's rights.

Keller co-founded the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in 1920 and was a member of the Socialist Party of America. She was a champion for causes such as worker's rights, pacifism, and women's suffrage. She traveled the world, delivering speeches and advocating for the rights of the disabled and other marginalized groups. Keller's activism and resilience in the face of adversity inspired many, and her legacy lives on as a symbol of determination and perseverance.

VickyWaddington_PhotographersGallery.jpg

The Photographers Gallery by Vicky Waddington. From the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive, https://the-ndaca.org/collection/?uniqueID=ARC1037

National Disability Arts Collection and Archive

This photo was found in the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), an organization dedicated to sharing the heritage and rich history of the UK Disability Arts Movement. It shows a woman using an electric scooter while attempting to enter the Photographers Gallery building. While the building has a ramp, it appears to be too steep, and the entrance door is heavy and manual, making it difficult for people with disabilities to enter.

This highlights the struggles that people with disabilities face when it comes to access provision. Despite laws and regulations in place, many buildings and public spaces still lack necessary accommodations, leaving those with disabilities feeling excluded, isolated and oftentimes humiliated. Disability rights activists have long fought for equal access and inclusion, advocating for changes in laws and policies to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities and access to resources as everyone else. Photos like this and others presented in the NDACA serve as a reminder that there is still work to be done in the fight for disability rights and access.

SAD-Access-Code-FRONT-482x644.jpg

SAD Access Code by the Sisters Against Disablement, 1985-1986. From Glasgow Women's Library, https://womenslibrary.org.uk/exhibition/when-we-are-not-seen-heard-or-recognised/

SAD-Access-Code-Inside-644x479.jpg

SAD Access Code by the Sisters Against Disablement, 1985-1986. From Glasgow Women's Library, https://womenslibrary.org.uk/exhibition/when-we-are-not-seen-heard-or-recognised/

Sisters Against Disablement (SAD)

SAD Magazine is a publication that serves as a vital resource and voice for disabled women. It is dedicated to addressing the issues and challenges that disabled women face, with a focus on disability rights, accessibility, and inclusion.

SAD Magazine is important to the disability rights movement because it is run entirely by disabled women. This makes it uniquely positioned to provide a platform for disabled women to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives, and to empower them to speak out against ableism and discrimination. Its articles on a wide range of topics, including education, employment, healthcare, and relationships, raises awareness of the issues and challenges faced by disabled women, and inspires change in the fight for disability rights. One image included shows an access code created by SAD explaining how to make spaces and events fully accessible to all. 

SAD Magazine highlights the important contributions of disabled women to the disability rights movement. By showcasing the stories and perspectives of disabled women, SAD Magazine helps to challenge societal misconceptions about disability and promote greater understanding and inclusivity. It also serves as a valuable resource for researchers and activists working in the field of disability rights, providing insights into the experiences and perspectives of disabled women. 

Elaine Brown interview .jpg

Leader of the Black Panther Party Elaine Brown talks about the Party's involvement and support of the 1977 Section 504 Occupation, 2014. From DIVA, https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/longmoreinstitute/bundles/230640

Elaine Brown

This interview with Elaine Brown who discusses the issue of intersectionality in relation to disabled communities. Elaine Brown is an activist and former leader of the Black Panther Party (BPP). In this oral history interview, she discusses the BPP's involvement in the Disability Rights Movement and their support of the 504 occupation in San Francisco. Brown explains how the BPP became involved in disability rights through their members affected by disabilities and in solidarity with the disabled community as another minority group whose voice and civil rights were suppressed.

Brown highlights the importance of systemic change rather than just accommodations for people in wheelchairs and details the BPP's support efforts around the protest, providing food, mobile showers, and bathrooms for the occupiers. Brown speaks about the difficulties disabled people face in navigating society when denied basic access and independence rights, especially if they are poor and non-white. She also discusses working with Ed Roberts, a paraplegic and effective leader in the disability rights movement. She mentions the BPP's work supporting prisoners, including the difficulties they faced in getting incarcerated Panthers the things they needed after becoming disabled. Elaine Brown's interview highlights the BPP's contributions to the disability rights movement and emphasizes the importance of intersectionality in fighting for civil and human rights for all oppressed groups.

JudyHeumannInterview.png

Disability Activist Judy Heumann on being one of the key leaders of the Section 504 Protest, 2014. From DIVA, https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/longmoreinstitute/bundles/230640

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann is an important figure in the disability rights movement and a board member of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. She was a key leader in the 504 occupied protest where activists occupied the San Francisco federal building for 25 days demanding the signing of important disability regulations. Heumann worked closely with other activists, including Kitty Cone and Ed Roberts, to organize demonstrations and build a broader community of people with disabilities.

Heumann's work focused on promoting disability rights rather than charity, and she emphasized the importance of cross-disability work and including diverse voices in decision-making processes. Her experiences in this interview offer valuable insights into the challenges and successes of disability activism, including the discrimination faced by people with disabilities in education, employment, and mobility.

Judy Heumann's contributions to the disability rights movement have been significant, and her insights in this interview provide important context for understanding the ongoing struggle for disability rights around the world.

FOCSreport.jpg

Families of Color Seattle 2018 Annual Report. From Feminist Community Archive of Washington https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/735/rec/4

FOCSreport2.jpg

Families of Color Seattle (FCOS)

The Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) 2018 Annual Report highlights the organization's efforts to provide support and resources to families of color in the Seattle area. The report features a range of programs and services aimed at empowering families, promoting racial equity and social justice, and building community connections, much like those provided by the Black Panther Party.

Included in this report is a quote from a parent affiliated with the program, expressing their appreciation for the program’s attentiveness to the need for dialogue around important topics such as disability and race. 

FOCS offers a range of programs and services, including parenting classes, playgroups, and cultural events, designed to promote child development and support families. This report demonstrates FOCS's commitment to creating a more equitable and inclusive society, one that values and celebrates the diversity of its communities. Organizations like FCOS remain crucial to the advancement and care of marginalized communities, especially the disability community.

SunitaDutta.jpg

"Interview with Sunita Dutta," 2015. From Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience https://wayback.archive-it.org/14173/20200911183451mp_/http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/sunita-dutta-5dbdkb

Sunita Dutta 

Sunita Dutta is a first-generation Indian woman who experienced a stroke in her 20s, resulting in a disability that includes difficulty speaking and moving. After her stroke, it was found that Sunita had antiphospholipid syndrome which led to stroke and eventual Lupus Diagnosis.

In this interview, she discusses her medical care, rehabilitation, and coming to terms with her disability. She also talks about the challenges of dating and intimacy with a disability, as well as her decision to leave paid employment for volunteer work. Sunita is an active member of her community, serving on the Board of Directors for both CIDNY and her condominium, as well as volunteering with CASA and advocating for children in the foster care system.

Sunita's story provides a firsthand account of the experiences and challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. Her openness and honesty about her struggles with mobility, independence, and dating with a disability highlight the need for greater awareness and understanding of disability issues.

Sunita's advocacy work and volunteer efforts demonstrate her commitment to improving the lives of others with disabilities and her ongoing efforts to promote disability rights. By sharing her story, Sunita contributes to the larger movement for disability rights and serves as a role model for others with disabilities.

JenniferWeile.jpg

"Interview with Jennifer Weile," 2015. From The New York Library Community Oral History Project https://wayback.archive-it.org/14173/20200911153840mp_/http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/jennifer-weile-c75kqx

Jennifer Weile

Jennifer Weile is student at Wagner College who is about to graduate with a degree in special education at the time of this interview. She has accomplished numerous things despite the challenges she has faced due to her Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high functioning autism that can affect an individual's social interactions, communication skills, and ability to handle sensory input. Jennifer's description of the physical, speech, and sensory therapies she has received over the years highlights the importance of early intervention and ongoing support for individuals with disabilities.

Jennifer's experiences and accomplishments serve as an example of the progress that has been made in supporting individuals with disabilities in education and other areas of life. Her success as a college graduate with a degree in special education is a testament to the power of education and the importance of inclusive practices in the classroom. Though there is much more progress to be made, stories like Jennifer’s become more common when neurodivergent students receive ongoing, adequate support and accommodations in a system that is not set up for them to succeed.

Takeaways 

We hope this exhibit will inspire greater recognition and appreciation for the history of disabled communities and serve as a catalyst for further research, documentation and advocacy towards a more inclusive and equitable selection of archival collections.

About the Curators 

Wendy Liao

Wendy Liao is 20-year-old Taiwanese student studying at the University of Washington Bothell. Her and her teammate Olivia share a keen interest in discussing disability rights. She strongly believes that advocating for equal rights for all, especially disability rights, is crucial not just for ourselves, but for society as a whole. She says achieving equal rights is an essential step towards creating an ideal world.

Olivia Thario 

Olivia Thario is a 26-year-old Cherokee American studying at the University of Washington Bothell. As a nuerodivergent woman living with ADHD and Panic Disorder, disability rights has always been a topic of interest and importance for her. She advocates for marginalized communities, especially disability communities, through her work at UWB and beyond. 

Sources

Brilmyer, Gracen M. (2022) "Toward a Crip Provenance: Centering disability in archives through its absence," Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies: Vol. 9, Article 3.
Available at: https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/jcas/vol9/iss1/3

Activist Judy Heumann on being one of the key leaders of the Section 504 Protest - Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability Collection. (2014). DIVA. https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/longmoreinstitute/bundles/230641

Families of Color Seattle 2018 Annual Report. (2018). Feminist Community Archive of Washington. https://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16786coll12/id/735/rec/4

Leader of the Black Panther Party Elaine Brown talks about the Party’s involvement and support of the 1977 Section 504 Occupation - Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability Collection. (2014). DIVA. https://diva.sfsu.edu/collections/longmoreinstitute/bundles/230640

SAD Access Code | Glasgow Women’s Library. (2019, February 20). Glasgow Women’s Library. https://womenslibrary.org.uk/collection-item/sad-access-code/

The Photographers Gallery - Vicky Waddington. (n.d.). National Disability Arts Collection & Archive. https://the-ndaca.org/collection/?uniqueID=ARC1037

Visible Lives Oral Histories of the Disability Experience- Jennifer Weile. (2016, February 26). The New York Public Library Community Oral History Project. https://wayback.archive-it.org/14173/20200911153840mp_/http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/jennifer-weile-c75kqx

Visible Lives: Oral Histories of the Disability Experience- Sunita Dutta. (2015, June 17). The New York Public Library Community Oral History Project. https://wayback.archive-it.org/14173/20200911183451mp_/http://oralhistory.nypl.org/interviews/sunita-dutta-5dbdkb

Disability Rights Advocacy: Key Activists, Advocates, Organizations and Historical events