1918 – Soldiers Rehabilitation Act of 1918, which offers training and financial assistance to injured World War I veterans, provides foundation for later legislation addressing broader needs of the disability community.
1943 – Amendments to the Vocational Rehabilitation Act extend services to individuals with intellectual disabilities and mental illness.
1950 – Amendments to the Social Security Act create a federal-state program to assist individuals with permanent disabilities, laying the groundwork for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
1956 – Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is established to provide funds to individuals no longer able to work due to disability.
1958 – SSDI benefits extended to dependents of individuals who can no longer work due to disabilities.
1968 – Architectural Barriers Act, often considered the first federal disability rights law, requires that federal buildings be accessible to individuals with physical disabilities.
1972 – Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program established, providing financial assistance to adults with disabilities who aren’t eligible for SSDI because they have no work history.
1972 – The first Independent Living Center is established by students with disabilities from the University of California, Berkeley. This sparked a national movement which eventually led to federal funding for a national network of such centers.
1973 – Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by any federal program.
1975 – Education for All Handicapped Children Act provides funding for states to provide “free and appropriate” education to children with special needs in the “least restrictive environment” possible.
1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and government activities.
1990 – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) replaces and broadens the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The act stipulates that each student with special needs must have an individualized education plan (IEP) approved by parents and that schools must provide additional services and specialists needed for students to realize their potential.
1992 – Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 place new emphasis on developing careers for people with disabilities, rather than focusing on entry-level jobs.
1999 – Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act provide vocational rehabilitation and other supports to help SSDI and SSI beneficiaries find work.
1999 – Supreme Court finds in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W. that institutionalization of individuals with disabilities is discriminatory if “treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate.” This was a landmark decision supporting the right of people with special needs to live in community settings.
2002 – Help America Vote Act provides federal funding to make voting sites fully accessible to individuals with special needs.
2006 – The United Nations General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The U.S. Congress has yet to ratify this treaty.
2009 – The Hate Crimes Prevention Act extends federal law to cover crimes motivated by a person’s disability.