Oct 17, 2020

The History Of Your Disability Rights

Disabilities Have Long Been Treated As A Disease That Must Be Stamped Out.

Disabilty Lawyer, Michael EhlineThe treatment of people born with learning or other mental and physical problems has long been disparate compared to an average healthy person. In the year 1995, estimates averred that in the United States, one in five people had some type of disability, and one in ten lived with a severe disability. Although it has improved since the 90s, as a society in the U.S., it remains all too common for disabled individuals to be treated differently or like second-class citizens. Most of all, this has been done by social stereotyping, segregating, and discrimination in schools, housing, and employment. 

I am a Los Angeles personal injury attorney named Michael Ehline. As the father of an autistic child and lawyer who assists employees wrongfully terminated or glossed over due to mental or physical challenges, not cutting the mustard. Moreover, physically challenged people are often cheated of their independence and often forgotten by society, which then further robs them of many of the American dreams other citizens enjoy without being ostracized.

What Is The 1990’s Data For Disabled Individuals?

  • In 1995, U.S. census data showed that individuals between the ages of 22 and 64 lived in poverty at a rate of 13%. Moreover, the census study shows a link between low income and persons with disabilities at 19.3%. And the percentage only exacerbates with age. The rate went as high as 42.4% for individuals with severe disabilities.
  • In 1994 data showed that approximately two-thirds of disabled people living in the U.S. between 16 and 64 were unemployed. Then a Harris poll showed that 79% of the unemployed, disabled individuals wanted to be employed.
  • In 1995 data shows that disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 completing college held at 9.6%, while one-third of non-disabled college-aged kids graduated within the same age group.

Historical Treatment of Individuals with Disabilities

The United States Supreme Court in 1927 upheld a ruling that a woman whose mother and daughter were both mentally disabled could be subject to forced sterilization. The Court stated in its ruling that these individuals would “sap the strength of the state,” were “menaces,” and society should:

“prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind, and that three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Up until the 1950s, there were thousands of people that were quarantined on isolated islands after contracting Hansen’s Disease. These individuals were ostracized by society, their employment, and their family. While this is a disease categorized as a health condition, people suffering from this condition were treated in the same manner as other individuals with disabilities have been.

In the United States, the history of treating people with disabilities unfairly has been appalling with society. Moreover, keeping these individuals in the home isolated from other people or placing them in neglectful institutions was par for the course. One example of the squalid conditions and treatment of mentally disabled children came to light in Willowbrook School, New York, in 1972. In that case, five thousand four hundred mentally disabled children endured dehumanizing therapy at this facility.

By the mid 1960s, Willowbrook, a Staten Island institution for mentally ill or delayed children, was filled to more than double its capacity. But crowding was the least of the horrors: Some residents of the state-run institution were reportedly used as test cases for hepatitis studies.Source NPR.

But in the 1960s, some things changed with the civil rights struggles with advocates for disabilities rights fighting for legal equality and access in society. Lobbying and litigation helped ensure education laws were passed and hence, these rights were established. Public education advocacy helped to promote students with disabilities in a society where these individuals were pitied, feared, or shunned.

Even today, some disabled people are still fighting for their rights or being institutionalized. And this is despite the truth that most of them merely need care provided within their homes and communities. Alas, society still treats individuals with disabilities, in many cases, as second-class citizens. The ACLU and other advocacy organizations continue fighting for the rights of people with disabilities in courts and Congress.

The ACLU has stayed on top of history. In their recent discussion paper, infra, they discuss the heroes and celebrities that spoke out and continue to speak out about disabilities and disabling diseases, including Annette Funicello, a former “Mouseketeer.” She suffers from multiple cases of sclerosis. Moreover, Annette has become one of their spokespersons. Also, classical violinist Itzhak Perlman who has polio will only perform concerts in halls that are completely accessible for people with disabilities.

What Is Congress' Definition Of Disability?

  • Congress defines disabilities as physical or mental impairments that “significantly limit one or more major life activities.”
  • People who are debilitated due to “lookism.” These are people that are ugly and disfigured burn victims, or obese from eating too much junk food. And most of us know that society looks down on fat people because obesity is a sign of laziness.
  • Because of this, society tends to define people who have been previously disabled but can function with their condition or have fully recovered as individuals who have had conditions such as manic depression, cancer, or other disorders that have been diagnosed. The person is rehabilitated to some extent.

What Are Some Important Laws Protecting People With Disabilities?

  • There are several laws that have been enacted to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and laws that have been enhanced after passing legislation.
  • Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 and later amended in 1970.
  • Amtrak Improvement act of 1973 and the Air Carrier Access Act in 1986.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1975 that ensured equality in education, housing, and civil life.
  • Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act in 1975.
  • Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act 1980.
  • Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act, 1984.
  • Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Act, 1986.
  • Fair Housing Act Amendment, 1988.
  • Civil Rights Restoration Act, 1989.
  • Rehabilitation Act 1973, including Section 504, banning nondiscrimination based on disability in all activities or aspects of programs that are receiving federal funding. All of the legislation led up to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that enhances and adds to the existing laws before this Act.

Americans With Disabilities Act.

The most comprehensive civil rights laws for disabled Americans were seen in 1990 with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Congress determined that these citizens were subjected to unequal treatment and political powerlessness. They then decided these individuals with disabilities should have the same protection that other groups, such as women, religious and racial minorities, were afforded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under the ADA, it is illegal to discriminate in public and private employment, public transportation, services communications, and technology. Moreover, it remains illegal for discrimination to occur in public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores, hotels, and other locations.

The Act bans discrimination by private businesses against customers with disabilities. Also, private businesses must make modifications to enable individuals with disabilities access to their goods and services. Employers are required under this Act to make reasonable modifications in facilities and equipment. And the purpose here is to permit individuals with disabilities to perform their duties. These modifications outlined in the ADA will depend on the employer’s size and resources.

ADA Legal Recourse?

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides individuals with disabilities a legal recourse if they are discriminated against. The United Cerebral Palsy Association in 1996 survey showed that 96% of people surveyed believe the ADA made a positive difference.

What Individuals Are Not Protected Under The American With Disabilities Act?

Individuals who have mental disorders and have criminal behavior are not.

These people include:

  • Drug addicts.
  • Alcoholics or people using illegal substances.

None of these people are protected under the American with Disabilities Act.

Individuals With Mental Disabilities?

In the United States, there are millions of people that are in a group of individuals with mental disabilities. Mental disabilities include retardation and individuals with psychiatric disorders. This group, while high in numbers, still has to fight for their civil rights and are not accepted in society. In the not too distant past, the mentally ill could be involuntarily committed to state institutions with no right to a court review of their confinement.

Many people that were involuntarily committed spent long periods and even decades in these institutions. In the 1950s, the number of institutional mental patients who had no say was approximately 559,000 people. During this forced hospitalization, patients had no personal rights. Also, they could be forced into medical procedures, medical experiments, and forced work.

These individuals had limited, or no contact with the people outside and could be placed in physical restraints or seclusion without a valid reason. With the established legislation, individuals cannot be involuntarily committed and have no rights, which has led to a large decrease in numbers from the 1950s; the number is approximately 100,000.

Individuals who were not institutionalized were viewed as “imbeciles,” in which society determined these people were potentially dangerous and untreatable. Also, these folks had been viewed as hazardous if they reproduced, as it was thought they would birth more “imbeciles.” Advocates for these groups have ensured people with mental disabilities have more rights. And some of the earliest discrimination cases involved mental disabilities.

The rights these individuals have include:

  • Unless the individual can be a danger to themselves or others, they have the right not to be confined.
  • If involuntarily confined, the person has the right to a court hearing to contest the confinement.
  • They have the right to refuse medication.
  • They have the right to a lawyer during hearings for commitment or contesting involuntary commitment.
  • They have the right to safe and secure living conditions, including shelter, food, medical care, and clothing.
  • They have the right to have fair treatment and training.

Even with laws to protect individuals with mental disabilities, these people can still face discrimination, abuse, and coercion.

What Are Some Noteworthy Legal Discrimination Cases?

  • 1990 Right to Fair Housing: Fairfield, Connecticut Town Council denied an application to open a residence for homeless people with AIDS filed by Lucie McKinney. McKinney fought the decision and won a lawsuit claiming the town council violated the Fair Housing Act and the American with Disabilities Act.
  • 1993 Rehabilitation Act: Bonnie Cook was denied State employment in the state of Rhode Island due to her obesity. Cook won a lawsuit against the country, and the Federal Appeals Court ruling said, “In a society that confuses slim with beautiful or good,” morbid obesity can be a blockade for employment. They went on to state that this was the exact type of circumstance the Rehabilitation Act protects against.
  • 1993 Deaf/ Hard of Hearing: James Bradley Quinn, resident of Little Rock, challenged a state law that excluded individuals who were deaf from serving on a jury. Quinn won the lawsuit under the ADA, and during a hearing in federal court, with the use of an American Sign Language interpreter, he said, “The deaf and hard-of-hearing should never accept limitations of their goals.”
  • 1994 Drug Testing: Kevin Hall, a testicular cancer survivor, challenged the Olympic Committee’s decision to ban him from sailing, was based on the fact that he tested positive for testosterone. The testosterone did not enhance his athletic performance. He used the ADA successfully involving non-discriminatory drug testing for an athlete and cancer survivor because of doctors using testosterone to treat the disease.
  • 1994 Mental Disability Discrimination—Public Parks: 33-year-old Eddie Dzura, who has Down syndrome and his father, brought a lawsuit for discrimination after Eddie was asked a series of degrading questions by a park employee front of amusement park visitors. Eddie was denied admission to ride on a merry-go-round. Moreover, this was because he had a mental disability. Upon winning the lawsuit, the court forced the amusement park to change its discrimination practices.
  • 1994 Professional Licensing: Four law school graduates challenged the Florida State Bar application using the ADA. The application required the applicant to disclose any information about receiving any mental health treatment during any time in their life. The law students were successful in winning their case since it violated the ADA.
  • 1996 Courthouse Access: Betty Livingston has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. Livingston is a resident of North Carolina and brought a lawsuit she won after being refused access to a courtroom because the only wheelchair accessible door in and out of the courtroom had been reserved for court personnel and attorneys only.
  • 1998 Pennsylvania Department of Corrections: The case of Yeskey v. the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections found that as many as 36 states were not providing equal access accommodations. Sadly, these were for people with disabilities who got incarcerated. And the ruling by the Supreme Court was that the scope of the ADA does not exempt prisons from compliance.

Above, we have outlined the history of mental and physical disability discrimination in the U.S. We also covered the history of laws protecting disabled people as a result. If you suffered discrimination in education or employment, or any other situation, our trustworthy lawyers want to hear about it. Use our online contact form, or call and speak to an aggressive, intelligent lawyer near you now at (213) 596-9642.


ACLU Position Paper

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