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Disability Trailblazers

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in July of 1990. It was a major milestone in the fight for equal rights for all Americans. To commemorate this important step, July is widely celebrated as Disability Pride Month. The month is an opportunity to celebrate differently-abled individuals and to recognize their contributions, struggles, and triumphs. As part of our Disability Pride Month series, we highlight some of the dedicated individuals who have blazed the trail for meaningful inclusion for people of all different abilities.

Judith Heumann – “Mother” of Disability Rights.

At age five, Judith Heumann was denied access to education because her school felt she was a “fire hazard”. Heumann had become a wheelchair user as a result of Polio. Heumann’s lived experience as a disabled person fueled her passion to advocate for the rights of disabled people. She spent nearly five decades dedicating her life to championing the rights of disabled people. She worked in both the public and private sector to ensure that disabled people had equal access to essential services, education, and employment Heumann passed away in March of 2023, leaving a legacy of advocacy and commitment. Read more about Judith Heumann here or watch her TedTalk here.




 Kitty Cone – Disability Rights Activist

In 1977, a sit-in at the Federal Building in San Francisco lasted for more than 25 days. Kitty Cone and her fellow disability rights activists were the organizers. At the time there was no legislation ensuring or protecting rights for American citizens with disabilities. Cone and her fellow activists helped pave the way to change that injustice. Cone was a passionate supporter of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, a center devoted to advancing the rights of differently-abled individuals and their families. Cone is one of four women currently featured in a Smithsonian miniseries called “Four Women Who Made History”. Read more about Kitty Cone here.




Joyce Ardell Jackson – Disability Activist, Childhood Arthritis advocate

Joyce Ardell Jackson was diagnosed with arthritis at the age of 12. She went  on to endure more than 50 operations throughout her life. Despite the constant pain brought on by her arthritis, Jackson graduated from Santa Clara University. Upon graduation, she  started working for the Center for Independent Living. In 1977 Jackson joined fellow activist, Kitty Cone, for a 26-day sit-in, highlighting the need for legislative protection for disabled Americans. Jackson was one of twenty disability advocates to meet with the Carter administration. During this meeting the activists convinced the administration to implement Section 504- the civil rights legislation prohibiting federally funded agencies and programs from discriminating against disabled individuals. Jackson also served three terms on the board of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. Learn more about Joyce Ardell Jackson here.

Leroy F. Moore, Jr. – Writer, Poet, Community Activist.

Leroy F. Moore, Jr. has spent his life highlighting the need for understanding the Black disability experience. Through film, spoken word poetry and books, he delves into the experience of being Black in America coupled with being disabled in America, drawing on his own experience as a black man living with cerebral palsy. Moore, Jr. is also the founder of Krip-Hop Nation, an association of artists with disabilities that aims to increase awareness in music and media of the talents, history, and rights of people of disabilities. In 2016 he penned the children’s book Black Disabled Art History 101. Learn more about Leroy F. Moore Jr. here.




Edward V. Roberts – Disability Rights Movement Pioneer

Edward V. Roberts is widely considered the founder of the Independent Living Movement. He also paved the way for individuals with physical disabilities to gain access to higher education opportunities. Roberts’ journey with disabilities rights started at age 14, when he was left paralyzed after contracting Polio. After fighting to be allowed to finish high school, he was accepted to UC Berkeley. When administrators learned Roberts was a quadriplegic, they tried to reverse Roberts’ acceptance to the school. Roberts advocated for his right to an education and became the first wheelchair-using student to attend UC Berkeley. Roberts went on to earn a Ph.D. He later directed the California Department for Rehabilitation and co-founded the World Institute on Disability. Learn more about Edward V. Roberts’ extraordinary life here.

Lydia X. Z. Brown – Writer, Activist, Speaker. Attorney

Lydia X. Z. Brown (They/ Them) is widely considered one of the leading advocates for autistic disability rights in the United States. As an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, they served as a student organizer and advocate for disabled students on campus. Lydia’s advocacy was inspired by their realization that students with “hidden” or intellectual disabilities found it particularly challenging to get the support they needed from the administration and the communities around them. This experience led Brown to work with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, an organization that at its core believes that individuals with autism need to be involved whenever autism is discussed. Through this work Brown co-edited All the Weight of Our Dreams, an anthology of art and writing entirely by autistic people of color in 2017. Read more about Lydia X. Z. Brown here.



Read more about amazing disability trailblazers:

British Vogue Features Disabled Activists in Five Unique Covers

Overlooked No More – Kitty Cone

17 Black Disability Activists and Advocates

Trailblazers Discuss the State of Disability Activism in America

How 11 Disabled Trailblazers Are Spearheading A Revolution.

What Does It Mean To Be Neurodivergent?

Three Autistic Disability Rights Activists to Amplify in Your Classroom

We Need Diverse Books