Today is a day to remember. Today is special. Today is April 5th.
On April 5, 1977, thousands of disabled people in cities all over America started a 25 days sit-in in front of their regional offices of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. They wanted implementation of regulations that would make effective Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Section 504 prohibited discrimination in federal programs and services and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. The Rehabilitation Act became law in 1973, however in 1977 a regulation was still missing. Without practical rules, Section 504 was more an academic declaration than an effective set of rights for people with disability.
The sit-in in the HEW national office in Washington, D.C. was disbanded by a HEW order prohibiting anyone from bringing any food, medication or supplies. But in San Francisco the activits lead by Judith Heumann laid siege to the HEW building until May 1st, generating an impressive media attention.
Local grocery chains donated food, people donated money, and Congressmen and Senators shifted towards official support. May 1st, the headline of the San Francisco Examiner was “Victory March” with the picture of a man on crutches and a woman in a wheelchair leaving in the building.
Eventually Secretary Josep Califano signed the regulation. It was one of the most significant event in the history of the disability rights movement. Not only because an important goal was achieved, but also because people with disability of any kind team together, rather than endorsing only their own specific group.
Fight any discrimination is not just a concern for the Charcot-Marie-Tooth Associations worldwide, nor a matter for disabled people alone. A world without discrimination is a common concern of the human kind. That’s the message of the protest in 1977. One generation later, we are still inspired by these men and women. Thank you!