January 30, 2018

Disability Legislation History

A Brief History of Legislation

Lawmaking is a basic power approach designed to give freedom and equity to groups of people. Transcendence of power approaches…is an individual’s step toward liberation of a different kind. It becomes more attainable, it seems, after individuals have experienced the sense of being powerful in ways meaningful to them” (Beatrice Wright, 1983).

The path of legislation benefitting those with disabilities has been a relatively short one for this country considering most of the legislation has occurred during the past century. The following list, while not inclusive of all the laws, gives some indication as to how the concept of “providing vocational opportunities” has evolved into the concept of “equal rights and access.” Included, too, are major sociological events related to legislation and disability rights.

1916 — The National Defense Act provided an opportunity for soldiers to receive instruction to facilitate their return to civilian life; for the first time legislatively the country recognized its obligation to persons injured in service to their country.

1917 — The Smith-Hughes Act established the Federal-State Program in vocational education; created a Federal Board of Vocational Education with the authority and responsibility for vocational rehabilitation of disabled veterans.

1918 — The Smith-Sears Veterans Rehabilitation Act expanded the role of the Federal Board of Vocational Education to provide services for vocational rehabilitation of veterans disabled during World War I; also referred to as the Soldier’s Rehabilitation Act.

1920 — The Smith-Fess Act (referred to as the Civilian Rehabilitation Act) began the rehabilitation program for all Americans with disabilities patterned after the Soldiers Rehabilitation Act; established the Federal-State program in rehabilitation and provided funds to state (50/50 match) for primarily vocational services: vocational guidance, training, occupational adjustment, prosthetics, and placement services; only for persons with physical disabilities; it did not include physical restoration or social orientation rehabilitation.

1935 — The Social Security Act was enacted to establish an income maintenance system that targeted those unable to work; included provisions furnishing medical and therapeutic services for crippled children and made permanent the vocational Rehabilitation program; provided for continuous authorizations, increased grant awards, and increased support from the federal government.

1936 — The Randolph-Sheppard Act recognized that person who were blind had vocational potential; gave state the authority to license qualified persons with blindness to operate vending stands in federal buildings.

1938 — The Wagner-O’Day Act required the federal government to purchase designated products from workshops for persons who were blind.

1943 — The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments (Barden-LaFollette Act) made substantial changes in the federal/state program of rehabilitation; broadened the program’s financial provisions, offered a comprehensive definition of vocational rehabilitation, expanded services to include physical restoration, and each state had to submit a written plan for approval by the federal agency as to how federal/state dollars would be used; expansion of services included on a limited basis person who were mentally handicapped and mentally ill; fostered separate agencies for general rehabilitation and rehabilitation of person who were blind.

1948 — To aid returning World War II veterans, Congress passed legislation prohibiting discrimination based on physical handicap in United States Civil Service employment.

1954 — The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments reshaped the roles of the federal and state government in the rehabilitation program; established the basis for a working relationship between public and private rehabilitation and expanded the role of the state agency; established funding sources for (1) college and university training of rehabilitation professionals; (2) improvement and remodeling of rehabilitation facilities; and (3) research and demonstration grants; increased federal funding to states (3 federal dollars for each 2 dollars from the state); increased services to persons with mental retardation and mental illness through items (2) and (3) above, along with agency expansion and improvement grants.

1961 — The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) issued the first minimum requirements relating to architectural access to common structures.

1965 — The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments expanded services to include person with socially handicapping conditions, such as alcoholism, lack of education, and prison records; expanded evaluation to determine individual eligibility for services where feasibility was not easily determined; allowed rehabilitation counselors to take more risks in serving persons with vocational handicaps, thereby serving more people with severe disabilities; established a National Commission on Architectural Barriers; deleted economic need as a general requirement for services; and increased federal match to 75%.

1967 — The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments provided rehabilitation services for migratory workers, eliminated the state residency requirement, and supported the construction and operation of the National Center for Deaf/Blind Youth and Adults.

1968 — The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments added follow-up services for maintaining a person with a handicap in employment and provided services to family members; gave authority to provide vocational evaluation and work adjustment services to persons disadvantaged by reasons of age, level of vocational attainment, ethnic or other factors; federal share was increased to 80%. The Architectural Barriers Act required buildings constructed with Federal funds or leased by the Federal Government to be accessible to the people who were handicapped.

1970 — The Urban Mass Transportation Act required local transportation authorities to plan and design mass transit systems to be accessible to people who were handicapped.

1971 — The Javitts-Wagner-O’Day Act retained priority for blindness in the provision of products for the federal government and added people with severe handicaps as eligible for participation. Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children vs. Pennsylvania and Mills vs. Board of Education, established that denying education to handicapped children or treating them differently within the educational system was a denial of equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution.

1973 — The Rehabilitation Act was the first act to address the notion of equal access of people with disabilities through the removal of architectural, employment and transportation barriers; further supported the rights of persons with disabilities through affirmative action emphasis and the legal support established in Title V: Section 501 focused on the federal government’s hiring practices, Section 502 created the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) to enforce standards set under the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, Section 503 prohibited discrimination in employment on the basis of physical or mental handicap on the part of businesses with federal contract or their subcontractors, Section 504 prohibited discrimination on the basis of physical and mental handicaps in programs receiving federal funds; also established the Client Assistance Demonstration Projects (CAPS) to provide assistance in informing and advising clients and applicants of all available benefits under the Rehabilitation Act; emphasized priority of services for persons with the most severe handicap and the development of the Individual Written Rehabilitation Plan (IWRP); established by statute the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Section 508 addressed issues related to access to communication and computer technology. (Note: Section 508 has not really taken affect until very recently eventhough it was originally part of this particular law). The Federal Aid Highway Act required transportation facilities receiving Federal assistance to be accessible.

1974 — The Rehabilitation Act Amendments included a broader definition of handicapped individuals, transferred the Rehabilitation Services Administration to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, strengthened the Randolf-Sheppard Act; and provided for convening a White House Conference on “Handicapped Individuals.”

1975 — The Education for All Handicapped Children Act ensured a free, appropriate, public education for all students with handicapping conditions; established that students have a right to receive related services that are developmental, corrective, or other supportive services including, but not limited to, speech pathology, audiology, psychological services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, and medical services (for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only).

1977 — Groups of individuals with disabilities took over federal buildings across the country in protest because the rules and regulations associated with Section 504 had not been signed by the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare for implementation. The take-over in San Franciso last 29 days and ended only after the rules and regulations were signed to implement the provisions and protections of non-discrimination based on disability. At the same time these were signed, the rules and regulations for the Education for All Handicapped Children Act were also implemented.

1978 — The Rehabilitation Act Amendments provided comprehensive services for independent living through Title VII, including provisions for Comprehensive Services, Centers for Independent Living, Independent Living Services for Older Blind Individuals and Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights; mandated that applicants for funds under Title VII provide assurance that individuals with disabilities would be employed, substantially involved in policy, and consulted on the direction and management of independent living centers; this major focus recognized that achievement of substantially gainful activity (employment) was not the only significant outcome that could be gained from the rehabilitation system and expanded the view of the person with needs that cut across the bureaucracy; also provided VR service grants to Native American tribes.

1984 — The Rehabilitation Act Amendments established Client Assistance Programs in each state and inserted “qualified” before the word “personnel” for training programs in the Act.

1986 — The Rehabilitation Act Amendments stipulated that rehabilitation services are to be provided by qualified personnel; defined and established supported employment as an acceptable goal; provided grants for special projects and demonstrations in supported employment; established a program to assist state agencies to develop and implement supported employment services; added rehabilitation engineering as a VR service.

1987 — The Code of Federal Regulations extended the services under the Education for All Handicapped Children Act to include school health services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

1988 — The Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act provided states with grants to achieve systems change so that assistive devices and services will be available to under served groups, viewing each child, adult, and older adult as entitled to equal access to opportunities achieved through assistive technology; one of the first laws to repeatedly drive home the mandate for consumer-responsive services and significant inclusion of persons with disabilities in planning, implementing and evaluating progress toward systems change. Students at Gallaudet University go on strike and close the university in protest to the appointment of another non-Deaf university president. Officials finally relented and appointed the school’s first Deaf president.

1990 — The Americans with Disabilities Act guarantees the rights of persons with disabilities to equal access to, and non-discriminatory behavior based on disability, in employment (Title I), government services including transportation (Title II), public accommodations (Title III), telecommunications (Title IV), and other services such as insurance (Title V); inclusion, integration, accommodation and accessibility are the underlying premise. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amended the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, changing its name and adding rehabilitation counseling, recreation (including therapeutic recreation), and social work services to the federal definition of related services.

1992 — The Rehabilitation Act Amendments emphasized employment as the primary goal of rehabilitation; mandated presumptive employability, meaning applicants will be presumed to be employable unless proven otherwise; state that eligible individuals must be provided choice and increased control in determining the vocation rehabilitation goals and objectives, determining services, providers of services, and methods to provide and/or secure services.

2008 — The Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) reiterate who is covered by the ADA civil rights protections.  It revises the definition of “disability” to more broadly encompass impairments that substantially limit a major life activity.  It also states that mitigating measures, including assistive devices, auxiliary aids, accommodations, medical therapies and supplies (other than eyeglasses and contact lenses) have no bearing in determining whether a disability qualifies under the law.  Changes also clarify coverage of impairments that episodic or in remission when active, such as epilepsy or post-traumatic stress disorder, that can substantially limit a major life activity.  These amendments took effect January 1, 2009.

It is interesting to note that the evolution from economic support through employment opportunities to civil rights protection likely would not have occurred had not society recognized the abuse of civil rights for other groups. Yet, rather than include individuals with disabilities in the Civil Rights Act born from the racial unrest of the 1960’s, civil rights protection came from a less assertive direction.

This difference may continue to reinforce the notions that people with disabilities are still not part of the “norm” even among those groups of individuals society has historically disenfranchised due to discriminatory behavior.  While there are now civil rights protections, it is still evident that disability is not as definitive a category as race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation.  The need for the 2008 ADA Amendments indicates that the courts find this category of human differenct difficult to define.