Special Report

26 Landmark Moments for Disability Rights in America

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1815: First deaf educational institution founded

The American school for the deaf was founded by William Bolling of Goochland, Virginia. It lasted only one year, from 1815 to 1816. However, shortly thereafter, in 1817, the American School of the Deaf was founded. It still stands today.

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1829: Raised Point Alphabet invented

Created by a blind French man named Louis Braille, the tactile alphabet allowed the blind to read and write, making it possible for them to receive an education alongside the sighted. Though it was first developed in 1824, but system wasn’t completed until 1829.

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1932: FDR becomes first disabled president

To this day, Franklin D. Roosevelt has been the only disabled U.S. president. He had been paralyzed from the waist down in 1921 after contracting what was thought to be polio (though more recent research suggests that it might have been Guillain-Barré syndrome). Though his condition was well-known, he took care to seldom appear in public or in photographs in his wheelchair to avoid calling attention to his disability. During his presidency, the White House installed wheelchair-friendly ramps that still exist to this day.

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1935: League of the Physically Handicapped founded

This disability rights organization was established to protest discrimination against the disabled by the Works Progress Administration, which deemed them unemployable. Members of the league held sit-ins to protest, with the result that some 1,500 jobs for physically handicapped workers were created in New York City.

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1935: Social Security Act passed

The Social Security Act established a financial system for those 65 and older to continue earning some type of income after retirement. The system, which is still in use today, also set up unemployment insurance and welfare programs that can aid the disabled.

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