From Native Americans to the ADA: A History of Disabilities in the United States

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

People living with disabilities became most visible when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990.

"Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation's Independence Day. Today we're here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue," President Bush said. "With today's signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom."

But Americans living with disabilities have a long and varied history in this country, as demonstrated in "A Disability History of the United States," a new book by Kim E. Nielsen, professor of history and disability studies at the University of Toledo.

Professor Nielson examines this history from a cultural standpoint, as perceptions of disabilities changed dramatically when Europeans colonized the Americas, and as the country moved toward urbanization and industrialization in the 19th century. Nielson explains how the disabilities movement learned from the Civil Rights movement, and examines the legal battles fought by disabilities advocates over the last century.


Kim E. Nielsen

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [3]


I would like to register for my own account. Please. Thank-you.

Oct. 03 2012 11:46 AM
Kim Nielsen from Toledo

What great stories, Debra! I'd love to know more. Kim Nielsen

Oct. 02 2012 04:03 PM
debra Solomon from NYC

First I LOVE the takeaway! it is my morning fare...everyday.

Listening to your show and your guest talk about disabilites I wanted to write to the show in memory of my dad Aaron N. Solomon. In WW2 my dad emptied the baskets of the war wounded as the returned to the US from europe, ( Mitchel Feild I think). There he made a pledge to himself to dedicate his life to improving the lives of the Handicapped (as they were called at that time). He was the first and largest employer of the handicapped in Boston, where he hired over 300 disabled workers and was awarded the employer of the year award by President Kennedy.

During his life he traveled all over europe and the US campaining for hiring those wih disabilites and he served on the earliest government panels adressing the issues of the disabled. ( We still have those speachs if anyone is interested in the early history of the fight for the rights of the disabled.) In the late 50'ies and early 60'ies the disabled were not viewed as potential workers. I will never fogret Lorraine, his first secretary with multiple disabilites she told my dad that she had applied for over 1500 jobs- before my dad hired her.

Oct. 02 2012 10:18 AM

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