Reframing History through Incorporating the Disability Rights Movement


Content and Context

This video entitled “The Power of 504” is a video of the 504 sit ins at the height of the disability rights movement. The video depicts hundreds of disabled individuals barricading themselves in federal office buildings in San Francisco to protest the lack of the implementation of the 1973 Federal Rehabilitation Act. The act was the first civil-rights statute for persons with disabilities in the United States. This video is widely available on youtube and similar web video sites.

This resource would be best utilized for 5th-12th grade students in a history, or english class. Specifically, this source could be incorporated in the common civil rights history unit that most students will discuss each year.

Not only is this resource applicable to the discussion of civil rights within history, but it is also expands the communities in which we discuss human rights and movements for equality. The disability community is a population that is still heavily marginalized and left out of a social justice conversation and context. As a result, focusing on the disability rights movement will both expand the understanding of marginalized communities, awareness of varying civil rights movements and will promote a social model of disability for future generations.

Objectives and Goals

The goal of this activity is two tiered: (1) to reframe history and (2) to discuss divergent approaches to peace. The framing of this activity would be to watch the video and then to discuss modern day civil rights movements by breaking into small groups and discussing the various ways in which our society has and does limit equity and how those communities are addressing those issues. In this discussion, students should discuss two major themes. First, the parallels of the disability rights movement to other recent movements (ie: LGBTQ, education, Native Americans, Latinos etc). Second, students should discuss how peaceful movements have been effective in bringing about reform. This question should begin to synthesize a students prior information on civil rights movements for Women, African Americans, Irish Americans etc and compare that information in a modern context. At the end of the discussion, students can report to the rest of the class on their group’s discussion and the teacher should write similar themes on the board. By the end each student will have gained a broader understanding of civil rights movements, as well as an awareness of peaceful protest as a means of promoting equality. In an academic sense, students will have engaged in critical thinking, and analyzing by comparing and contrasting the various movements.

One thought on “Reframing History through Incorporating the Disability Rights Movement

  1. I think this is an excellent resource for re-framing history. Many historians teach three main themes: identity, power, and freedom. This resource touches on all three – ownership of an identity and arguing for access to political and social power by making it illegal to discriminate on a specific basis.

    The goals and objectives are well-designed and definitely hit the several groups that have successfully argued for – or continued to argue for – equal access to the American Dream.

    An interesting addition to this might be to show clips from the episode “A Good Day” from the West Wing. In it, a group of middle school students argue for abolishing the minimum voting age. It’s an interesting topic for a classroom debate and students won’t take long for the buy-in. ( )

    Where re-framing history comes in is where you tell the students that the arguments against “children’s suffrage” in the clip are the arguments against suffrage for any group demanding access.

    This video clip is about voting rather than making it illegal to discriminate on a particular basis, so it might take a little explaining, but I do think this particular clip may add to a dialogue, perhaps as a conclusion to this particular lesson.

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