Throughout American history, women with disabilities have played a significant role in shaping the country’s political, social, and cultural landscape. Despite facing significant barriers and discrimination, these women have persevered and made their mark on history.
Helen Keller is one of the most well-known disabled women in American history. Born in 1880, Keller was struck by an illness at the age of 19 months that left her both blind and deaf. Despite these challenges, Keller became an accomplished author and activist, advocating for the rights of people with disabilities and women’s suffrage. She wrote several books, including her autobiography, “The Story of My Life,” and was a renowned public speaker.
Another important disabled woman in American history is Judith Heumann. Heumann was born with polio in 1947 and became a disability rights activist at a young age. In 1977, she helped lead the Section 504 sit-in, a 28-day protest in which disabled activists occupied a federal building to demand that the government enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in federally-funded programs. This protest was a pivotal moment in the disability rights movement and helped pave the way for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Ed Roberts was another influential disabled activist who made significant contributions to the disability rights movement. Roberts was a polio survivor who became an advocate for disability rights in the 1960s. He helped establish the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, which was the first organization run by and for people with disabilities. Roberts also played a key role in the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which provided funding for vocational rehabilitation services for people with disabilities.
Harriet Tubman, known for her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, also had a disability. Tubman suffered from epilepsy, which she believed was a result of a head injury she sustained as a slave. Despite her disability, Tubman made 13 trips to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people. Tubman’s bravery and dedication to the abolitionist cause made her a hero to many and her legacy continues to inspire people today.
These women, along with countless others, have made significant contributions to American history despite facing discrimination and ableism. Their stories serve as a reminder of the importance of disability rights and the need to continue fighting for a more inclusive and accessible society.