Life Before The ADA

Life Before The ADA

A brief history of disability in America

There’s no denying that the Americans with Disabilities Act has made a big difference in the lives of disabled people, including myself. For those who don’t know, the ADA, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment, ensures equal opportunity in government services, and regulates the accessibility of public and commercial facilities, as well as in housing and transportation services. The law has made it more possible for those of us with physical or intellectual/cognitive disabilities to go to school, find work, and otherwise lead independent and productive lives. But, what was life like for Americans with disabilities before the passage of the ADA?

The Road to Freedom tour was a traveling exhibit in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA

At (relative) best, disabled people, including the deaf and blind, were marginalized or hidden away. At worst, people like us were subjected to inhuman treatment that made America look no better than Nazi Germany. Prior to the 1700s, people with mental illness were considered possessed by demons and if you had any kind of handicap, good luck finding shelter. You would’ve been kicked out of hospitals or shelters for the poor, forced to beg for money and food.

Things started to look up, at least for the deaf, when European “intellectuals” determined that deaf people could reason. Samuel Heinicke opened the very first school for the deaf in Germany in 1755. By 1800, the conventional wisdom was that disability came from genetic, rather than spiritual weakness. Unfortunately, the Racial Hygiene Movement also began to take hold, promoting an agenda to control reproduction and weed out the genetic traits they believed were weakening humanity. By the 1880s, this so-called science came to be known as eugenics and became widely accepted in America, years before it became a part of Nazi ideology.

The eugenicist agenda wasn’t limited to disabled people, but large numbers of the deaf, blind, and mentally handicapped were placed into segregated schools, or hidden away at home or institutionalized. This segregation, as well as the forced sterilization of people deemed physically and/or mentally “undesirable” or “defective” became law in 29 states, including Indiana and West Virginia. West Virginia became the last state to repeal its sterilization law in 2013. By the 1970s, nearly 60,000 people had been sterilized without their consent.

Eugenicist propaganda

On the brighter side, the 1960s and 70s saw a rise in disabled rights activism, drawing inspiration from the civil rights movement. During this time, a number of bills would serve as the precursor to the ADA, one of the most prominent being the Rehabilitation Act of 1972. President Nixon vetoed the 1972 act, but protesters continued to put pressure on the government and succeeded in lobbying for the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This new act prohibited discrimination against “otherwise qualified handicapped” citizens in federally funded programs and also called for sidewalks with curb cuts, handicap parking spaces, and ramps for public buildings and universities. Also of note is the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA in 1990), which ended the practice of placing disabled children in segregated schools and allowed their parents to participate in the decision-making process.

Disabled rights activists push for access to public transportation in a 1985 demonstration

The ADA expanded the protections of the Rehabilitation Act into the private sector and contained more specific language. The law seems to have largely succeeded in ending discrimination against disabled Americans in employment, education, and public services, but just like with civil rights legislation, it hasn’t put an end to personal prejudices or negative stereotypes. Even so, it gives us a chance to prove ourselves as capable individuals, rather than burdens on society.

Cover Image Credit: Jared Starr

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.

Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.


Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The Gillette Controversy: Should Companies Share Their Views?

"We Believe: The Best Men Can Be" by Gillette is about creating a conversation, whether you agree with the commercial or not.


We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film)

January 13, 2019, Gillette released a commercial that takes a new focus on their tagline "The Best a Man Can Get." The commercial weighs in on the Me Too movement and showcases different moments of toxic masculinity.

These moments include boys bullying another boy through cyberbullying, two young boys beating each other up while fathers are watching them saying that "boys will be boys", a set of a 1950s sitcom where a man grabs his maids butt to which the audience is encouraged to applause and laugh at his act, and a businessman laughing at his female colleague's statement and then says to the other male colleagues, "What I actually think she means…"

A voiceover in the ad says, "Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can't hide from it, it's been going on far too long. We can't laugh it off, making the same old excuses. But something finally changed [implying the Me Too movement and people speaking up], and there will be no going back..."

The commercial then shifts to showing a man stepping in when another man tells a woman to smile, when a man stops another man from following a woman down the street, and video clips of men stopping fights and having two boys shake hands, as well as a father encouraging his daughter to say she is strong. There is also a moment when a father from the "boys will be boys" scene tells those kids fighting, "This is not how we treat each other."

The voiceover continues with "...Because we…We believe in the best in men. To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. But 'some' is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."

This commercial sparked controversy with people saying that not all men show toxic masculinity, many people saying that this commercial is anti-male, and people saying they will now boycott Gillette and their partner company. Whereas others are praising the commercial with many saying that, if you're offended by this commercial, then that is why it was made.

But regardless of what you think of the commercial as a whole, the big topic of discussion is whether or not it is okay if companies should be political and put their two cents in through marketing.

I say yes.

I believe it is very okay for companies to express their thoughts and concerns about political and social issues through marketing. When the Me Too movement first came into the light, many people wanted Hollywood to stay out of politics/social issues. The public did not want to hear about the sexual harassment allegations throughout Hollywood, however, because of these celebrities bringing light to this issue more and more people, celebrity or not, are coming forward and speaking their truths.

More and more people are realizing the signs of harassment and speaking up before it can get worse. Society is more aware of these social issues because people with a platform are talking about it. Unfortunately, many people still do not want to listen to people with platforms, but having the conversation is important, so how else can we keep the conversation going?

That is where commercial and other forms of advertisements can come in. The commercial did exactly what it intended to do: to create a conversation. Talk shows like "The View" or "The Talk" are talking about, news outlets are talking about it, people on YouTube are talking about it, and here I am writing an Odyssey article related to the topic.

The commercial created conversation. It got people thinking about and discussing their concerns, their feelings about the idea of toxic masculinity, as well as how this commercial could or could not be the new wave of change. It is important to have conversations, as it is the only way for things to change and for people to see that how things used to be are not the way they should be now.

Related Content

Facebook Comments