By Mark Romoser
1935 – League of the Physically Handicapped, NYC, sit-in at office of Emergency Relief Bureau. The League also tried to educate unions and other progressive groups about disability issues, and were branded as “Reds” (communists) for their troubles.
1964 – White Cane Day, blind people demonstrating on behalf of pedestrian safety for people using travel canes. The blind community has long been in the forefront of the disability rights movement; all states had guide dog laws decades before the ADA.
1977 – 504 sit-ins in San Francisco. Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, a precursor of the ADA, required the federal government and any entity receiving federal funds to end discrimination on the basis of disability. President Carter’s secretary of health and human services, Joseph Califano, dragged his feet on drafting the regulations that would implement Section 504. Activists occupied the federal building in SF for nearly a month. When the government cut off phone service to the building (years before cell phones), Deaf people in the building got messages in and out by signing back and forth to allies outside.
1983 – ADAPT. Originally Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit, ADAPT frequently protested the American Public Transit Association demanding lift-equipped buses. After the ADA mandated such buses, ADAPT’s focus shifted to the one-quarter of U.S. nursing home residents who are under age 65 and have disabilities, under the slogan “FREE OUR PEOPLE!” In the early days, ADAPTers blocked buses at the main transfer point in downtown Denver to get their point across.
1990 – Capitol Crawl. Wheelchair users crawl up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demand passage of the ADA. Some of them were children.
2010 – Arnieville. Disability and homeless activists occupy a traffic island in Berkeley for one month to protest Gov. Schwarzenegger’s draconian budget cuts. When the activists brought the papier-mache statue of Schwarzenegger to Sacramento and blocked off a street in front of the Capitol, it took Sacramento police 45 minutes to clear the street and take them to jail, because they had no accessible vehicle to get them there.