Disability Justice 101: Community Care for Every Body | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Disability Justice 101: Community Care for Every Body

KFTC's annual meeting featured a Disability Justice 101 workshop co-facilitated by Centrak Kentucky KFTC member Tiffany Duncan and KFTC staff members Chandra Cruz-Thomson and Beth Howard. The workshop gave an introduction of Disability Justice concepts, a timeline of disability justice and disability rights organizing and modeled ways to incorporate disability justice tools and principles into our meeting spaces. 

According to Disability Justice activist Mia Mingus, “Disability justice is a multi-issue political understanding of disability and ableism, moving away from a rights based equality model and beyond just access, to a framework that centers justice and wholeness for all disabled people and communities.” 

If you are interested in learning more about disability justice and/or bringing some resources or trainings to your chapter, please talk with a KFTC chapter organizer. 

And in an effort to ongoing political education, here is the timeliine featured in the annual meeting workshop. The timeline was compiled by member Tiffany Duncan. 

Disability Justice Timeline 

The purpose of this timeline is to display the ways bodies and minds have been invalidated and oppressed throughout our national history and how resistance took form in the fight for disability rights and eventually a movement for collective liberation called disability justice.

1751 – The Pennsylvania Hospital opens a treatment ward for mental illnesses and cognitive disorders. Five years later, the hospital begins chaining patients to the basement walls. The patients are put on display for a fee.

1883 – The “Eugenics Movement” is started by Sir Francis Galton in the United Kingdom. This would eventually lead to the American Eugenics Movement and legislation that stopped people with disabilities from immigrating to the U.S., getting married or having children.

1899 – A doctor named Henry Clay Sharp starts performing vasectomies on prisoners who were considered “degenerates.”

1907 – A compulsory sterilization law passes in Indiana. It is the first sterilization law in the U.S.

1910 – An American biologist named Charles Davenport founds the Eugenics Record Office in Cold Spring Harbor, New York.

1912 – Henry Goddard publishes a book called The Kallikak Family, a best seller that pushed the idea that people inherited intellectual disabilities and they were immoral.

1920 – Emma Buck, a Virginian, is diagnosed as feebleminded and committed to Virginia Sate Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded. Her diagnosis is attributed to what the physician described as “promiscuous” behavior.

1923 – Carrie Buck (Emma Buck’s daughter), an unmarried teenager, becomes pregnant. Carrie gives birth in 1924 and is sent to the Virginia Colony. Her child is removed from her custody. 

1924 – Virginia passes a sterilization law. Carrie is selected to participate in a court case to determine the constitutionality of the eugenics law.

1927 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s law is constitutional and that it was permissible for Carrie to be sterilized. The procedure is performed on October 19. Between 1927 and 1972, 8,300 Virginians are sterilized under the state law. The law served as a model for 30 other states and 50,000 U.S. citizens are sterilized without their consent.

1935 – The Works Progress Administration, a public works employment program created to alleviate unemployment during the Great Depression, stamps the letters PH on over 300 job applications. The PH stands for physically handicapped and the stamp is seen as a way to weed out undesirable job applications. A group called The League for the Physically Handicapped forms in New York to protest the discriminatory practice. The members of the league were mostly polio survivors and people born with cerebral palsy and they had all been refused work by the WPA. They led a 9-day sit-in that eventually generated several thousand jobs across the U.S.

1935 – Dr. Alexis Carrel, a surgeon and biologist at the Rockefeller Institute in the United States publishes a book called “Man the Unknown.” The book describes the systematic execution of mentally ill and criminal people in small euthanasia institutions using gasses.

1939 – WWII breaks out and Hitler orders the killing of the sick and disabled via gassing in a program called Aktion T4. 100,000 people are murdered before the official end of the program in 1941.

1946 – The Mental Health Foundation was formed by conscientious objectors. They worked in mental institutions during WWII and exposed abusive conditions within the facilities. As a result, a movement for releasing people begins.

1947 – Willow Brook State School opens in Staten Island, NY. The school was created to educate students with intellectual disabilities, but the students are subjected to medical experiments, overcrowding, and various abuses.

1948 – Patients organized a mental health self-help group at the Rockland State Hospital in New York City. The group is called We Are Not Alone (WANA).

1954 – The US Supreme Court rules that separate schools for children of different races are unequal and unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education Topeka. This decision was a catalyst for the civil rights movement and became a major inspiration to the disability rights movement.

1958 – “Rehabilitation Gazette,” originally titled the Toomeyville Gazette begins as a grassroots organization. It served as a voice for disability rights, independent living, and cross disability organizing.

1962 – Edward Roberts sued to gain admission to UC-Berkeley and become the first student to attend the university who lived with a significant disability. He was a polio survivor and used a wheelchair and a iron lung. In the same year, James Meredith becomes the first black person to attend University of Mississippi.

1964 – The Civil Rights Act is passed. It forbade discrimination because of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, and creed. Later gender and disability are added. The act covers public accommodations and employment. It is a model for future disability rights legislation.

1967 – Leroy Franklin Moore Jr. is born in New York, NY. Leroy is born with cerebral palsy.

1973 – A lawsuit was filed against the Willow Brook State School in New York, to end the horrible conditions there. A television broadcast from the facility outraged the general public, who saw the terrible treatment of people with developmental disabilities. The press exposure along with other advocacy, led to the end of similar institutions.

1973 – The Rehabilitation Act was passed. For the first time, discrimination against people with disabilities is addressed, especially in Section 504. This law would provide the outline for the future Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 is an anti-discrimination, civil rights statute that requires the needs of students with disabilities to be met as adequately as the needs of the non-disabled are met.

1975 – Education for All Handicapped Children Act/EHA became federal law. In 1990 the act’s name was changed to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. The goal is to provide children with disabilities free and equal education opportunities as students without disabilities.

1977 – A group of people with disabilities took over the San Francisco offices of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare to protest Secretary Joseph Califano's refusal to sign regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The stayed for one month and it became the longest sit-in of a federal building on record. Because of their demonstration, the 504 regulations were ultimately signed.

1983 – Sharon Kowalski was disabled by a drunk driver in Minnesota. Her parents learned that she was a lesbian and refused to allow her to return home to her lover Karen Thompson. They put her in a nursing home instead. Thompson’s eight-year struggle to free Kowalski became a focus of disability rights advocates and led to links between the lesbian and disability rights communities.

1985 – The first conference for self-advocates with developmental disabilities was held in New York.

1986 – A newsletter called Dendron is published by the Clearinghouse of Human Rights and Psychiatry. It would eventually become mad pride organization, MindFreedom International.

1988 – The Fair Housing Amendments Act added people with disabilities as a protected class and set minimum standards of accessibility.

1990 – ADAPT organized The Wheels of Justice campaign in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of people with disabilities rallied in support of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Activists occupied the Capitol rotunda and were arrested when they refuse to leave. President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26. Disability rights activists attended the signing ceremony on the White House lawn. The law mandated reasonable accommodations” in government buildings and employment for disabled workers. The act also mandated access in public transportation, communication, and in other areas of public life.

1995 – Sandra Jensen, a member of People First, was denied a heart-lung transplant by the Stanford University School of Medicine because she had Down Syndrome. After pressure from disability rights activists, administrators there reversed their decision, and in January 1996, Jensen became the first person with Down Syndrome to receive a heart-lung transplant.

1996 – Not Dead Yet was formed by disabled advocates to oppose Jack Kevorkian and the proponents of assisted suicide for people with disabilities. Disability rights advocates were concerned by movements to “ration” health care for people with severe disabilities and the imposition of “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) orders for disabled people in hospitals, schools, and nursing homes.

1998 – Leroy Moore starts Disability Advocates of Minorities Organization (DAMO). The next year he meets Patty Berne. DAMO closes in 2000.

2001 – The Commonwealth of Virginia House of Delegates approved a resolution expressing regret for its eugenics practices between 1924 and 1979.

2003 – The Icarus Project began in 2003, to build community support among people who felt isolated by the mental health mainstream system.

2004 – Patty Berne becomes executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society’s project on disability, race, and eugenics. After running it for several years, she decides that she wants to do more than defend her right to exist.

2004 – The first ever Disability Pride Parade was held in Chicago and other communities around the country.

2005 – Leroy Moore, Patty Berne, Todd Herman, and Amanda Colsor join forces at the Center for Genetics and Society. Todd and Amanda get a grant from Theater Bay Area to create a show on disability. The group begins meeting to plan a live performance called “Sins Invalid” about disability and sexuality.

2005 – Support Group International becomes MindFreedom International. They are dedicated to activism, advocacy, peaceful protest, public education, mutual support, lobbying, organizing and never ever giving up our dream: Equal opportunity of mental and emotional wellbeing for all.

2006 – Sins Invalid show is held at Brava Theater.

2006 – The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, or ASAN, was founded. It is an organization run by and for individuals on the autism spectrum. ASAN's mission statement says that Autistic people are equal to everyone else, and important and necessary members of society.

2007 – Sins invalid becomes a formal organization with a mission to do work on disability and sexuality.

2008 – Sins Invalid forms a relationship with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Creating Change Conference.

2008 – Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, and Stacy Milbern meet to talk about if work being done by queer and disabled people of color is a second wave of disability rights or something new → disability justice.

2010 – The Disability Justice Collective, originally called together by the National Gay Lesbian Task Force, becomes its own organization. The DJC includes Patty Berne, Mia Mingus, Eli Claire, and Sebastian Margaret.

2015 – Sins Invalid publicly releases strategies for mixed-ability organizing, an accessibility assessment, definitions of disability justice and graphic illustrations of the 10 principles of disability justice.

“The only way to bear the overwhelming pain of oppression is by telling, in all its detail, in the presence of witnesses and in a context of resistance, how unbearable it is. If we attempt to craft resistance without understanding this task, we are collectively vulnerable to all the errors of judgement that unresolved trauma generates in individuals. It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, radical change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be. This can only be done if we face the reality of what oppression really means in our lives, not as abstract systems subject to analysis, but as an avalanche of traumas leaving a wake of devastation in the lives of real people who nevertheless remain human, unquenchable, complex and full of possibility.” – Aurora Levins Morales


The entries in this timeline were largely adapted from the following websites.

  1. https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Buck_Carrie_Elizabeth_1906-1983
  2. https://www.sinsinvalid.org/timelines
  3. https://copower.org/images/documents/Leadership/Disability_Timeline_text...
  4. http://www.yodisabledproud.org/organize/docs/PRIDE/5_High_School/Unit_3_...
  5. https://theicarusproject.net/welcome-to-the-icarus-project/origins-and-p...
  6. https://mindfreedom.org/about-mfi/who-we-are-d2