Disability History Week 2012

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By Kirk Aranda, CFILC’s Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud Youth Advocate

It’s that time of the year again!   

It’s time to celebrate Disability History Week! This is a very exciting time where youth from all over California go to their local schools to present lesson plans on disability history topics to teachers and students.   
In 2009, a group of YO! (Youth Organizing!) Disabled and Proud members came together and decided that they wanted to make the teaching of disability history in all schools throughout California a priority.  The Disability History Week Campaign was established as a statewide youth-driven effort to educate students and teachers with and without disabilities about the significant contributions to civil rights made by people with disabilities. This campaign was successful and, in 2010, a resolution was passed by the California State Legislature designating the second week of October officially as Disability History Week.

Now every year in October, YO! volunteers and members go into schools  to present and educate students and teachers on disability history.  Each lesson plan includes various historical facts that are not yet generally taught in school’s history curriculum. How many Californians know about Ed Roberts or the Independent Living Movement?  How many know of Justin Dart’s integral role in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act passed? Many Californians aren’t even aware that their own state played a large role in the disability rights movement – or about the accomplished work  of Judy Heumann, among many others. Judy helped to organize massive sit-ins at the U.S. Department of Health Education, and Welfare offices in San Francisco and around the U.S. which ultimately resulted in the signing into effect the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 504 regulations. 504 states that it is illegal for federal agencies, public universities and other public institutions receiving  federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability. This protest lasted for twenty-five days and remains the longest occupation of a federal office in U.S. History.
Disability rights activists Judy Heumann and Kitty Cone in Washington, D.C. for a series of meetings and rallies – which ultimately resulted in HEW Secretary Joseph Califano signing the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 504 regulations.
Ed Roberts – A pioneering leader and disability rights activist
There are many important facts and ideas about disabilities and disability history that are not often addressed by teachers – often because they haven’t been taught disability history themselves. This topic is important to everyone because, not only is knowledge empowering, unifying and the first step in creating awareness and respect for one another, but also because people with disabilities have been marginalized, ignored, and/or hidden from society for centuries.  There have been many great achievements made by leaders with disabilities that are important for people with and without disabilities to recognize. Teaching disability history in schools is the first step towards rectifying a past filled with discrimination and prejudice. Like all social justice movements, disability history needs to be taught alongside other civil rights movements. And now, thanks to YO! members and other youth leaders, anyone can have access a variety of age-specific disability history lesson plans that include PowerPoint presentations and interactive learning games such as a disability history Jeopardy game.
Justin Dart – Activist and advocate for people with disabilities. He helped to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 
Disability History Week brings much passion and excitement to everyone involved; more and more schools throughout California and the rest of the U.S. are participating and our goal now is to keep up this momentum.  Let’s work together to ensure that this important week expands to all schools so that communities everywhere know about their important civil rights history.

Were you taught about disability history at your school? Please share your experiences with either teaching or learning about Disability History Week. 

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