Special Report

26 Landmark Moments for Disability Rights in America

1940: National Federation of the Blind Founded

Still going strong, the National Federation of the Blind is the oldest and largest organization of its kind. The Federation coordinates programs, services, and resources to defend the rights of the blind.

Source: Hulton Deutsch / Contributor / Getty Images

1946: National Mental Health Act

During the mid-1940s, many veterans suffered from mental illnesses due to the trauma of war. The act established the National Institute of Mental Health and is credited with spurring the development of new methods of treating mental health issues.

Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

1947: Harold Russell wins an Oscar

Russell was a World War II veteran who lost his hands while serving. After being cast in the 1946 drama “The Best Years of Our Lives,” he earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role and also a special Oscar for ”bringing aid and comfort to disabled veterans through the medium of motion pictures.” He was both the first disabled person and the first non-professional actor to win an Academy Award.

Source: Vermilya / Getty Images

1950: National Barrier-Free Standards are enacted

In 1950, several groups, including the U.S. Veterans Administration, the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, and the National Easter Seals Foundation collaborated to develop national barrier-free standards. This development raised public awareness of disability rights and led eventually to laws mandating accessibility requirements.

Source: MPI / Getty Images

1954: Brown v Board of Education

Though it is remembered primarily for ruling that racial segregation in public schools is unlawful, this landmark Supreme Court also paved the way for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requiring that children with disabilities receive free public education.

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