A Timeline of Disability

A Timeline of Disability

December 3rd is the International Day of People with Disabilities


Lifelong institutionalization, incarceration and segregation of people with disabilities, particularly children, is the norm; these ‘patients’ have no legal right to challenge their detention.  There are also many international instances of systematic and sanctioned murder of people with disabilities, especially women and children.

Early 1900s

International policies still advise the confinement, segregation, sterilization and lobotomization of people with disabilities. Compulsory forced sterilization of people with disabilities is often another policy.  (Many such pieces of legislation are not repealed until the 1970s.)


Community care begins to replace institutionalisation, though systematic forced sterilization of people with disabilities continued.  


400 athletes from 23 countries participate in the first official Paralympic Games, in Rome.


England is the first in the world to recognize the rights of people with disabilities, passing the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. This includes the provision of welfare assistance, housing and equal rights to recreational and educational facilities.


Disabled activists organised the 504 Sit-in which is a world record-breaking protest in San Francisco. The protest spread over a tiring 26 days, where Califano finally relented and signed the regulations in April 1977.


Many countries include people with disabilities within anti-discrimination legislation.  There is a significant increase worldwide in the numbers of disability advocacy and rights organisations.


The World Summit for Social Development's Programme of Action recognises the pressing need for the full participation and equality of people living with disabilities.


Significant case law (internationally) reflects the empowerment of people with disabilities. This includes access to employment, education, facilities and transport, electoral processes, and healthcare.  There is also a shift of public policy towards self-directed models of support for people with disabilities. 


The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is adopted by 163 countries. Also, legislation to guarantee the human rights of people with disabilities is developed.


UN and World Health Organisation's releases joint international statement 'Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization'.

As we can see times, and attitudes have changed, but there is still a way to go. We are all responsible for advocating for positive changes. 

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini.

My strength is not the strength of one, it is the strength of many.