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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Moments in Disability History 8

Alabama Federal District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr.

During his 24 years as a federal district court judge in Montgomery, Alabama, Judge Frank Minis Johnson, Jr., made numerous revolutionary decisions that were the building blocks for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Between 1956 and 1966, Judge Johnson declared segregated public transportation unconstitutional, ordered the integration of public parks, interstate bus terminals, restaurants and rest rooms, and libraries and museums; required that African Americans be registered to vote; ordered Alabama Governor George Wallace to allow the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery; ordered the first comprehensive statewide school desegregation plan; and became the first judge to apply the equal protection clause of the Constitution to state law discriminating against women.

Judge Frank Johnson
Judge Frank Johnson

On July 24, 1980, nearly 10 years to the day before the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Bill Moyers' interview of Judge Johnson was broadcast as "Judge: The Law and Frank Johnson" in two parts on Bill Moyers Journal by WNET/Thirteen, New York. In this segment from that interview, Judge Johnson describes how litigation evolved from property rights and capitalism to human and civil rights, from divergent issues between two parties to class action lawsuits, and from redress of past wrongs to prospective relief.

This evolution enabled revolutionary court decisions that provided the infrastructure leading to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judge Frank Johnson
Ricky Wyatt

In his 1971 decision, Wyatt v. Stickney, Judge Johnson established the precedent that people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities who reside in institutions have a Constitutional right to treatment. In his order issued April 13, 1972, Judge Johnson identified 35 minimum standards for adequate treatment. These standards included 14 statements of "rights".

The 33 year Wyatt litigation ended on December 5, 2003. The video Legacy of Wyatt describes how Wyatt, as "patient rights" litigation, gave greater visibility to the potential impact of the legal system on improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Wyatt Group
DMH/MR Commissioner Kathy
Sawyer, (left) and Governor
Bob Riley (right) with
Mr. Ricky Wyatt (center).


Video: Bill Moyers Journal, "Judge: The Law and Frank Johnson", WNET/Thirteen, New York, PBS Air Date July 24, 1980. Broadcast interview used with permission of WNET/New York Public Media, July 1, 2013. Any illegal or criminal use of copyrighted property is strictly prohibited.

Please note: The PBS interview with Judge Frank Johnson, conducted by Bill Moyers, dates back to 1980. We recognize that some of the language and terminology used is now considered outdated and offensive. At the time, however, that was not the case and the content of the interview is historically significant. The permission granted extended solely to posting this particular video clip.

Minimum Constitutional standards and individual rights enumerated in the Wyatt v. Stickney decision as expressed by Judge Frank Johnson

Video: The Legacy of Wyatt

Parallels in Time II 1950-2005 A Place To Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center, the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

This website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL),  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,120,136.00 with 83 percent funded by ACL/HHS and $222,000.00 and 17 percent funded by non-federal-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.