Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

This guide offers a history of various movements by citizens in the United States to gain political and social freedom and equality. It highlights resources available through the library and also offers a list of current civil rights organizations.

Disability Rights in the 1960s and 70s

The disabled rights movement intensified.  It reached its first pinnacle with the passage of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The Act, twice vetoed by President Nixon in 1971 and 1972 for primarily fiscal reasons, was signed by the President in 1973 after significant amendment.  However, it was Section 504 (interestingly, not one of the provisions objected to by the President), that contained the language that, for the first time, prohibited discrimination of and created rights for disabled persons.  Section 504 provides that any program funded by the federal government is prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities.

By now, there were multiple advancements in rights for disabled citizens.  The first handicap parking sticker had been created (Washington DC, 1973); the first legal advocacy center, The National Center for Law and the Handicapped, was founded at the University of Notre Dame; President Kennedy called for a reduction in the number of mentally disabled people in residential treatment centers.  Demonstrations were held by disabled activists in Washington D.C. to protest the veto of the Rehabilitation Act. Among those organizing demonstrations in Washington and elsewhere were the groups Disabled in Action, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the National Paraplegia Foundation.

In 1975, The American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities was founded.  It was the first disability rights group that was created, governed and administered by disabled individuals, and the first ever national group that pulled together disability groups representing different populations of the disabled.

Library Resources

  • Andrew J. Ruzicho, Handicap Discrimination: How to Comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, KF3738 .R89 1977
  • Anne Marie C. Hermann and Lucinda A. Walker, Handbook of Employment Rights of the Handicapped: Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, KF3469 .H47 1978
  • Fred Pelka, What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement, KF480 .P45 2012
  • Ruth Colker, Federal Disability Law in a Nutshell, KF480.Z9 T83 2019


Protests for the Rehabilitation Act of 1973