e d g e - education for disability and gender equity


1 Introduction
2 Why Enact the ADA?
3 What Does the ADA Do?
4 The U.S. Constitution
5 How Voters Influence Elected Officials
6 The Disability Vote
7 Setting the Stage for the ADA
8 Campaigning for the ADA
9 Activity
10 Resources

As we have learned, in order to be taken seriously by politicians, citizens groups must show that they are a large, cohesive, well-organized constituency. In the years leading up to the introduction of ADA, the disability community gradually developed the unity and organizational skill to present itself as a political force. Nearly 20 years earlier, Congress had passed an important law called Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. This legislation banned discrimination on the basis of disability by groups receiving federal funds such as schools, state agencies, and federal contractors. Section 504 was modelled after previous laws which banned discrimination based on race, ethnic origin or sex.

Yellow button with brown letters - "Handicapped Human Rights - SIGN 504 - ACCD"
Button worn by people demonstrating for passage of the Section 504 legislation.

For several years after passage of Section 504, the federal agencies responsible for enforcing the law still had not written the rules to implement it. This angered many disability advocates, who were tired of being ignored by policymakers. Through a combination of legal action and activist demonstrations, the disability community demanded fairness from the government. All over the country people with disabilities held a "sit-in" at federal buildings to protest the delay in issuing regulations. This means that people using wheelchairs, crutches, sign language, and guide dogs all joined together, and occupied government office buildings, refusing to leave when they were asked to. The longest sit-in was in San Francisco, lasting 28 days and getting attention from the national news media.

The disability community mobilized a variety of strategies, including congressional testimony, a letter-writing campaign, and high-level negotiations. All of these tactics, in combination with each other, proved successful: On May 4, 1977, the Section 504 regulations were issued.

Wheelchair users sitting in government office with officials sitting at a desk
504 demonstrators sitting in a government office

Why do you think so many people decided to join in the sit-in? How do you think it would feel to occupy an office building for several weeks, with many other people who support the same cause? Why do you think federal officials finally agreed to the protesters' demands?

In advocating for a cause, what strategies do you think are most effective? -- lobbying, writing or collate elected officials, protesting, or some other approach?

(next section - Campaigning for the ADA)

NEXT arrow