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As time went on, many people with disabilities including MS were being discriminated against in society including education and work. This sparked the disabilities movement that dates to the mid-1800’s and is still changing today.
In the United States, politicians, activists, and awareness groups like The Nation MS Society, supported the disabilities movement. They mimicked the ways Americans have stood up for their rights such as in the Women’s suffrage movement and the civil right’s movement. To understand the disabilities movement, one must first understand the correct definition of disability. Most people have a common misunderstanding of what disability means based on what they have been exposed to in life; an example would be a classmate in a wheel chair. A disability can be based around a person’s mental or psychological status and their physical state of being. Additionally, disabilities can be visible, like certain cases of Multiple Sclerosis, or invisible, like Diabetes. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states in Section 504 that an individual with a disability is defined as “persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning”. The Americans with disabilities Acts put into law in 1990 states that a person may have a disability if a one has an impairment hindering them physically or mentally from performing major life activities, has this disability/ies documented, or is known to having one or more disabilities. “S/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment”. These definitions help society understand what it means to have a disability and why the disabilities movement started.
The discussion of rights for people who have disabilities began in the 1860’s. The mindset that ‘people with disabilities are incapable of thinking, are not able to learn, and not achieve in life’ diminished when Abraham Lincoln became President. Gallaudet University in Washington DC, a school for deaf student was granted funds by a bill that President Abraham Lincoln enacted. This bill helped pave the way for rights for people with disabilities. Abraham Lincoln’s open mindedness to rights for people with disabilities would later turn the geers of change for the civil, gender equality, and disability rights. Change became a national demand in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Americans desired change for equality regardless of race and gender. With the eruption of civil disobedience, nonviolent protests, sit-ins, boycotts, and violence due to racial inequality and civil rights, President John F Kennedy put forth that he would support and push the legislation of civil rights for all Americans. It was not until July 2, 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was president that the Civil Rights Act was passed. Soon after, Title IX was passed in 1972. The law states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. ” These two enactments did not directly influence the rights for people with disabilities but did elevate the spirit of change.
In 1973, the Rehabilitation act was passed by Congress. Subsection 504 is nationally known as the first civil rights enactment for people with disabilities. It states, “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance”. . However, the cost of this policy halted the application from being enforced. In 1977, a series of protests forced the government to issue the rules and laws of the Rehabilitation act. In July 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed and enforced The Americans with Disabilities Act into law. On that day he proudly said, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down, that millions of Americans with disabilities are full-fledged citizens and, as such, are entitled to legal protections that ensure them equal opportunity and access to the mainstream of American life”. This law expanded the legal right of citizens with disabilities. The rights include access to public services, telecommunication, public accommodations, the private sector, employment, but are not limited to these areas. Because of this law, all public and private organisations in the United States, excluding private country clubs and churches, are now required to follow the regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now the rights of all the people with disabilities, including Multiple Sclerosis, are protected by these mandated laws.
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