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"... In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.
The humblest is the peer of the most powerful
John Marshall Harlan, dissenting opinion, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)


In 1974, President Richard Nixon issued Executive Order 11776 reaffirming the national goal of returning about one-third of the 200,000 people with mental retardation in public institutions to community residential placements. The Justice Department was directed to strengthen the full legal rights for people with mental retardation. Amendments to the Social Security Act authorized residential care in Intermediate Care Facilities and established the Supplemental Security Income program.

Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act required that people with severe disabilities be given priority for vocational rehabilitation services; Section 504 prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in federally funded programs.

The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act required states to plan for community alternatives to institutionalization.

The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, in Welsh v. Likins, held that people with mental retardation have a constitutional right to treatment in the least restrictive environment.

Dr. Elizabeth Boggs of the National Association of Retarded Citizens and Dr. Elsie Helsel of the United Cerebral Palsy Association observed how the pace of funding and programming for people with disabilities had slackened in the late 1960s. They decided a new approach was needed that addressed disability and funding issues in a more comprehensive manner.

The 1970s began with the introduction of the Developmental Disabilities Services and Facilities Construction Amendments of 1970 (P. L. 91-517). These amendments gave states broad planning and implementation responsibilities to develop a program of services and offer local communities a voice in determining needs, priorities, and a delivery system. The Act authorized the creation of a Developmental Disabilities Council in each state to serve in a planning and advisory capacity, and create a forum for discussions among parents, people with disabilities, state agencies, and private service providers.