The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s gave rise to other civil rights movements, most notably the Women's Rights Movement and the Disability Rights Movement. While minorities and women were protected by civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress during the 1960s, the rights of people with disabilities were not protected by federal legislation until much later.
Three major pieces of civil rights legislation were passed by the United States Congress during the 1960s. These three major pieces of civil rights legislation are the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which covers fair housing for minorities.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was broad in scope and covered those receiving federal funds, employers, and places of public accommodation such as bus stations, restrooms, and lunch counters. It prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin.
However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not protect people with disabilities. Discrimination against people with disabilities would not be addressed until 1973 when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law, and later still in 1990 when the ADA was passed.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects the rights of minorities to vote in elections.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 includes Title VIII which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and sex in the sale and rental of housing. The Fair Housing Act, like the Civil Rights Act of 1965, did not protect people with disabilities. The Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988 to add two new classes, people with disabilities and families with children.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs and by recipients of federal financial assistance. But Section 504 did not protect people with disabilities from discrimination in many employment situations or public accommodations in the private sector. It took the ADA to address these areas not covered by Section 504.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly the Education for all Handicapped Children Act, requires that all children with disabilities receive a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Public schools have obligations to students with disabilities under IDEA and the ADA. Public schools are local government agencies and under the ADA, they have obligations to students with disabilities who qualify for services under IDEA and also to other students with disabilities, employees, parents and members of the public who have disabilities.
Find more resources on disability history in our resources for youth with disabilities section.