Accessing the Academy: Origins of the Disabled Student Movement, 1955-1973
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Series/Report no.:2011 Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum. 25th
This essay traces the development of disability rights consciousness and the formation of activist networks, providing a revision to the literature on student movements. Reconstructing five case studies from universities in California, Illinois, and New York that experienced high levels of disability activism in the 1960s, my investigation reveals the influence of disabled student activism in reshaping university policies and locates the training grounds of the future leaders of the national disability rights movement. Rehabilitation centers and summer camps for physically disabled adolescents offered unhindered access, disabled role models, and a sense of community that was an escape from their everyday lives. The utopian environment transformed young students’ understanding of accessibility—both physically and socially. As disabled students entered higher education they relied on networks formed at rehabilitation centers to form coalitions of activists on college campuses. Students with disabilities fought to have access to a formal education, to live in regular dormitories, and to play college sports, gaining a critical training in public activism. As students graduated, they carried with them their experiences, tactics, and rights consciousness, and became leaders of major organizations such as Disabled in Action and lobbied for national antidiscrimination legislation, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Humanities: 3rd Place (The Ohio State University Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum)
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