Disability Pride Month — The Unsung Heroes of the Disability Rights Movement

By Lyd Lacey 

How much do you know about the Disability Rights movement? Unfortunately, most of us, including Disabled people ourselves, know very little. Although it is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans are Disabled, our history is continually erased from textbooks and lessons. This July, in honor of Disability Pride Month, a month dedicated to remembering our predecessors work and looking ahead to the progress still to come, we invite you to take a minute out of your day to learn about a few people behind the Disability Rights movement.

Justin Dart Jr.

Known as the Father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Justin Dart Jr. contracted Polio at the age of 18 in 1948. He became a wheelchair user and shortly thereafter began his work in Disability advocacy. In 1981, then President Ronald Regan appointed him to the National Council on Disability, where he worked tirelessly by traveling to all fifty states to hear the firsthand experiences of disabled people nationwide. Then, he worked closely with senators to legislate the ADA in 1990, under the presidency of G. W. Bush. After it was made into law, he continued working to amend it for many years. He received the presidential medal of freedom in 1998. He continued to travel the world advocating for Disability rights until his death in 2013.

Read more about Justin Dart Jr. HERE.

Johnnie Lacy

Johnnie Lacy was an intersectional advocate who worked to fight segregation and ableism throughout her life. She contracted Polio at a young age and graduated from San Francisco State University in 1960, but was barred from participating in the ceremony. Lacy became an advocate for Disabled people, particularly Black Disabled people. She pioneered the independent living movement and was a co-founder of the Berkley Center for Independent Living. She was the director of Community Resources for Independent Living for over a decade and served roles on multiple governmental councils and commissions focused on the rights of Disabled people for much of her life. She continued her legacy of activism until her death in 2010.

Read more about Johnnie Lacy HERE.

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann is known as the Mother of the Disability rights movement, perhaps best known for her dedication to education. She was denied her right to a public education at just five years old because she used a wheelchair, and later denied a position as a teacher for the same reason. Heumann then sued the school board in a landmark case that saw her become the first teacher in the state of New York to use a wheelchair. In 1977, she helped organize the section 504 sit-in in San Francisco, which lasted a historic 26 days. She then went on to serve a number of roles advocating for Disabled people both nationally and internationally, and she has created a number of multimedia projects including podcasts, books, and documentaries that tell her story as well as others’. She sadly passed away in March of 2023.

Read more about Judy Heumann HERE and HERE.

Brad Lomax

Brad Lomax was a Black Panther and Disabled advocate whose intersectionality proved instrumental to the previously mentioned section 504 sit-in in San Francisco. Lomax was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1968 when he was a young adult. He was a founding member of the Black Panther’s Washington chapter in 1969, and later moved to the Bay Area in California where he became intimately involved with the disability rights movement. He began bridging the civil rights movement and the Disability rights movement, creating a vibrant and unified community in San Francisco. Then, during the sit-in, he brought in the help of the Black Panthers, who provided hot meals to the protesters for the month-long sit-in. Lomax died of MS complications in Sacramento in the 1980s.

Read more about Brad Lomax HERE.

Learning about these few individuals is just the start of Disability History! This Disability pride month, we encourage you to make an effort to learn more about the history of the Disabled community. You can start by learning about the history of SRNA.

Reflect: Why is Disability History so often left out? What can we do to bridge the gaps in history lessons?

Educate: Learn more about Disabled Activists, Disability Rights History, and the how and why of where we are today. Start with books like Being Heumann, movies like Crip Camp, or podcasts like Access All.

Amplify: Share the stories of the people highlighted here and seek out more individuals that are unsung heroes. Show others that you care with our Disability is Not a Bad Word and The Future is Accessible shirts and sweatshirts. Lift up the voices of others and make sure no one gets left behind!

Create: Do you know about other Disabled advocates? Post about them on social media and highlight their incredible work!