MLK's Influence on the Disability Rights Movement!

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day! In honor of MLK, we have decided to talk to you about how he influenced and inspired the disability rights movement. Dr. King led the black community in fighting for their civil rights and that fight fueled the disabilities rights movement. The black and disabled communities faced similar disparities throughout history, particularly in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. For instance, the identity of both groups was determined by the way white and non-disabled people viewed them. This led to further discrimination of black and disabled people

Dr. King’s commitment to achieving equality inspired the disability rights movement to demand the passage of crucial laws such as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. These laws enabled people with disabilities to have greater access to transportation, housing, and higher education.

Among other things, the disability rights movement focused on voting, employment, and housing protections. These were directly influenced by the civil rights movement because black Americans were fighting for some of the same rights. Both communities had unequal access to schools, transportation, entertainment venues, and employment opportunities. Additionally, both groups shared similar unjust societal views and treatment toward them and were expected to remain in their place and fail academically. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the black community in fighting for equality and the passage of critical laws such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Likewise, his non-violent approach fueled the disability rights movements and enabled it to successfully demand Congress and the U.S. President to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 among other important laws that will forever benefit the disabled community.

Photo #1: Photo of a peaceful march during the disability rights movement. Members of the protest are holding a banner that says "Injustice Anywhere is a Treat to Justice Everywhere," a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Photo #2: Photo of a peaceful march during the disability rights movement. A member of the protest is holding a sign that says "We Shall Overcome."

Photo #3: People with disabilities are seated in front of a public bus, indicating that public transportation is inaccessible to people who use mobility aids. At this time, there were no lifts on buses and often times bus drivers did not allow people who used wheelchairs and other mobility aids to get on buses even if they had assistance. Signs say "Lifts Not Lies," "Freedom Rider," and "Buses are for Everyone."

Photo #4: People with disabilities are crawling up the U.S. Capitol Building steps to show the lack of public access in a government building designed for U.S. citizens. They are doing this in an effort to demand the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act which will ensure that buildings funded by the federal government are accessible to people with disabilities.

Photo #5: A wheelchair user struggling to get over a curb, indicating the need for curb-cuts. Cities and towns were required to implement curb-cuts after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Photo #6: The signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Since its passage, it has enabled the disabled communities to obtain greater public access.


Article Source

Jones, Brooke. (2017). Emergence of the Disability Rights Movement.


Image Sources

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Collins, Craig. “The Capitol Crawl.” Issuu, From Equal Access, Equal Opportunity: 25th

Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Actby Faircount Media Group, 20 Sept. 2019,

Colorado Experience.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 15 Feb. 2018,

Lyle, Valencia. “The Disability Rights Movement - Keeping the Momentum Going!” Medium,

AMPLIFY, 5 Feb. 2018,

Meldon, Perri. “Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement (U.S. National Park Service).”

National Parks Service, National Parks Service,

Peterson, Julie. “Smashing Barriers to Access: Disability Activism and Curb Cuts.” National

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