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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.

Milestones in Disability History Since
the Americans with Disabilities Act

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 2010, several Minnesota state agencies helped to compile this timeline of milestones in disability history since the enactment of the ADA. 

Minnesotan Commission of the Deaf, Deafblind, and Hard of Hearing
Disability Services Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services
Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities 
Minnesota Ombudsman's Office for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities
Minnesota Rehabilitation Services Division, Department of Economic and Employment Development 
Minnesota State Council on Disability
Minnesota STAR Program
Minnesota State Services for the Blind

Through the passage of the ADA, Congress set as a goal the assurance of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.  It recognized that discriminatory practices and discriminatory effects had long stood in the way of these goals and so it gave specific civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.1  Over the past two decades, the ADA has fundamentally altered the lives of millions of individuals with disabilities in the United States.  The timeline below captures some of the advances made nationally and in Minnesota over the past twenty years towards the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act including:

  • Significant court rulings
  • Significant state and federal legislation
  • Significant events in education, health care, housing, employment, and technology
  • Other major events that affected the rights of people with disabilities

1990   President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The ADA extends all civil rights protections to people with disabilities and requires states to provide services in the most integrated setting.

1990   The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Students with disabilities are required to be involved in developing their transition plans, and their interests and preferences are to be considered.2

1990   Across America, more than 74,000 people with developmental disabilities were employed in communities with the help of supported employment.3

1991   New Hampshire closed its only state-run institution, becoming the first state to no longer operate a state-run institution.4

1991   The World Wide Web (W.W.W.) debuted on the Internet as a publicly available service.5

1992   Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 were passed. The revisions emphasized careers over entry-level jobs and were guided by the presumption that people with disabilities are employable.  The amendments required Independent Living Centers to be established in all states to provide core independent living services.6

1992   The Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) approved the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Waiver for Minnesota's Medicaid program.7

1992   The United Nations established the International Day of Disabled Persons to create awareness and understanding.8

1992   Metro Deaf School, serving children pre-kindergarten through 8th grade, became the first charter school in Minnesota for students who are deaf.9

1993   Robert Williams was appointed commissioner of the Administration on Developmental Disabilities (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), the first person with disabilities to be named Commissioner.10

1993   The National Home of Your Own Alliance was created to help states develop home ownership initiatives targeted to the needs of people with developmental disabilities.11

1995   National Federation of the Blind established dial-up synthetic-speech talking newspaper, making a daily newspaper available to blind people by 6:30 a.m. on day of issue for the first time.12

1995   As part of a national grassroots effort to pass federal legislation to expand personal assistance services, Lucy Gwin, founder and editor of Mouth Magazine, produced a call to action titled You Choose.13

1995   Justin Dart and others organized Justice for All to defend and advance disability rights and programs at the federal level.14

1995   When Billy Broke His Head and Other Tales of Wonder, a documentary of the disability rights movement, premiered on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). The film won recognition at several national film festivals including a Freedom of Expression award from the Sundance Film Festival.15

1995   The American Association of People with Disabilities, a national nonprofit cross-disability member organization, was founded in Washington, D.C.16

1995   Nationally, more people with developmental disabilities participated in home and community-based Medicaid waiver programs (more than 142,000) than resided in Intermediate Care Facilities (134,384).17

1995   In Minnesota, the Moose Lake facility closed the units for mental health, chemical health and people with developmental disabilities.18

1995   In California, Sandra Jensen was denied a heart-lung transplant because she had Down Syndrome. Activists focused attention on the situation and the decision was reversed.19

1995   Minnesota passed the Insurance Parity Law that prohibited state-regulated health plans that provided coverage for mental health or chemical dependency services from placing greater restrictions on behavioral health services than on comparable physical health services.20

1995   The number of people with developmental disabilities in Minnesota regional treatment centers declined to 610.21 

1996   The federal Mental Health Parity Act of 1996 prohibited the use of different lifetime and annual dollar limits on coverage for mental and physical illnesses.22

1996   The federal Telecommunications Act passed and required computers, telephones, closed captioning and many other telecommunication devices and equipment be made accessible.23

1996   Sandra Jensen became the first person with Down Syndrome to receive a heart-lung transplant.24

1997 Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 which completely overhauled the nation's special education system.25

1997   The Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act (MiCASSA) was introduced for the first time. If passed the legislation would have allowed states to use Medicaid funds for community-based and in-home supports without requiring a waiver.26

1997   Minnesota passed the Patient Protection Act that required licensed health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to provide consumers with information about standing referrals, continuity of care and reimbursement arrangements between health plans and providers.27

1998   President Clinton signed the Assistive Technology Act into law. The Act was a renewal and expansion of the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1989.28

1998   States designated more than $735 million of primarily state funds for family support programs. This represented 3 percent of the total spending on developmental disabilities programs, but was an increase over the past.29

1998   The United States Supreme Court, in Bragdon v. Abbott, extended benefits under the American with Disabilities Act to a woman with HIV who sued a dentist who refused to fill a cavity for fear of getting the disease himself. The Court's decision clarified that persons with HIV/AIDS are considered disabled under the ADA.30

1998   Across the country, approximately 140,000 people with developmental disabilities used supported employment to work successfully in their communities.31

1998   The Faribault Regional Treatment Center was closed after the last resident with developmental disabilities is relocated to the community.  The facility was transferred to the Minnesota Department of Corrections.32

1999   The United States Supreme Court, in Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W., required states to provide services in the most integrated setting and reinforced the right of people with disabilities to live in the community.33

1999   The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvements Act (TWWIIA) expanded the availability of Medicare and Medicaid health care coverage for working individuals with disabilities.34

1999   The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to help make web content, including text, images, forms, and sounds, accessible to people with disabilities.35

1999   The last resident of the Cambridge Regional Treatment Center moved into the community and the facility was closed.36

2000   Medicaid spent approximately $18.2 billion or 27 percent of its long-term care dollars on home and community-based supports, more than double the proportion spent in 1990.37

2000   The last resident of a Minnesota state institution for people with developmental disabilities left the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center.38

2001   President George W. Bush created the New Freedom Initiative, a multi-agency effort sponsored by the federal government to remove barriers to community living for people with disabilities and long-term illnesses.39

2001   Congress appropriated funding for the creation of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) within the Department of Labor. ODEP funded the Customized Employment Initiative to improve workforce development system services for people with disabilities.40

2001   Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, a sweeping reform of the nation's education system focused on accountability.41

2001   The Commonwealth of Virginia became the first state to formally expressing regret for its past support of eugenics.  Virginia's eugenics legislation resulted in the involuntary sterilization of more than 8,000 people with disabilities between 1924 and 1979.42

2001   The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services awarded the Minnesota Department of Human Services a $2.3 million Real Choice Systems Change Grant. Minnesota used the grant to create the Disability Linkage Line and the Quality Design Commission to support the self-determination and informed choices of consumers and quality assurance within the long-term care system.43

2002   Nationally, approximately 118,000 group homes for six or fewer people with developmental disabilities were available, almost three times the number of group homes available in 1992.44

2002   Minnesota North Star Academy (MNSA) became the first chartered high school in Minnesota for students who are deaf.45

2004   Congress amended the Assistive Technology Act to support state programs addressing assistive technology needs of people with disabilities. Authorization of the amendment shifted programs from capacity building to providing core service activities such as assistive technology device demonstration, device loan, device reuse, and alternative financing for the purchase of assistive technology.46

2004   Since 1991, 160 institutions, nearly half of the nation's large institutions for people with developmental disabilities, had closed.  All but twelve states had closed at least one of their institutions.47

2005    Minnesota Legislature passed legislation that changed the language of statutes and rules to eliminate the use of "mental retardation" in favor of "developmental disabilities" and institute people-first language when referring to people with disabilities.  The legislation also eliminated the use of "handicapped," "idiot," and other stray language referring to people with disabilities in all state statutes and rules.48

2006 The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st century.49

2007   The Office of Disability Employment Policy, Department of Labor endorsed customized employment strategies for increasing the employment options of job seekers with complex needs through the national workforce development system.  Customized employment involves the negotiation of a personalized employment relationship between a specific individual and an employer to meet the needs of both.50

2007   The Minnesota Legislature passed the Governor Pawlenty's Mental Health Initiative designed to improve the accessibility, quality, and accountability of publicly funded mental health services.51

2008   Congress passed the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 which requires insurance companies to treat mental and chemical health on an equal basis with physical illness when policies cover both. The Act was named for the late Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) and Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM), who were dominant figures in the quest for equal treatment of benefits throughout their Senate careers.52 

2008   Largely due to the efforts of 20 young people with disabilities from West Virginia, the West Virginia Youth Disability Caucus, the first state legislation requiring that students in a K–12 public school system be taught the history of the disability rights movement was passed.53

2009   In Saint Paul, Metro Deaf School – Minnesota North Star Academy (MDS-MNSA), a Pre-K-12 charter school, was formed by the merger of two charter schools for students who are deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing.54

2009   Minnesota passed legislation that required the state to adopt the federal accessible technology standards from Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, and to establish an advisory committee to further establish standards for accessibility and usability of technology in Minnesota.55

2010   The Minnesota Legislature passed and Governor Pawlenty approved Resolution 4, House File 1680 which apologized to "all persons with mental illness and developmental and other disabilities who have been wrongfully committed to state institutions."  The resolution expressed regret for the history of institutionalization of people with disabilities in Minnesota including the practices of forced labor and involuntary sterilization.56

1Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101.

2P.L. 101-476; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §§1400 et seq.

3Rehabilitation, Research and Training Center on Supported Employment, Achievements and Challenges: A Five-Year Report on the Status of the National Supported Employment Initiative, FY 1986-1990, page 9, 1992, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/pdf/80s/86/86-90-AC-RRC.pdf

4Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support, slide 75, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

5World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), A Little History of the World Wide Web, available at http://www.w3.org/History.html#refs; See also http://groups.google.com/group/alt.hypertext/msg/395f282a67a1916c for an archived web page of the public debut of hyperlinks.

6P.L. 102-569; Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 791-794.

7Minnesota Department of Human Services, Medicaid Waivers in Minnesota.

8United Nations Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Frequently Asked Questions.

9 Metro Deaf - Minnesota North Star Academy,

10Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Futurity, September 1993, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/learning/document/GT115.PDF, at page 9.

11Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support, slide 83, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

12National Federation for the Blind, available at http://www.nfb.org/

13Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support, slide 79, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

14Dobbs, Jean, "And Justin for All," New Mobility, March 1998.

15 Public Broadcasting Service, POV Biography of filmmaker David E. Simpson. See also Fanlight Productions available at http://www.fanlight.com/catalog/films/346_rm.php.

16American Association for People with Disabilities available at http://www.aapd.com/.

17United States General Accounting Office, Medicaid Waiver Program for Developmentally Disabled is Promising but Poses Some Risks, p. 7, June 1996.

18Minnesota Department of Human Services, The Evolution of State Operated Services, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/past/pdf/00s/07/07-DHS-ENG.pdf.

19Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, "Ideas & Trends: The Unlisted; Live and Let Die over Transplants," The New York Times, April 5, 1998, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/05/weekinreview/ideas-trends-the-unlisted-live-and-let-die-over-transplants.html.

20Minn. Stat. (2009) §62Q.47.

21Minnesota Department of Human Services, 1996-1997 Services to Minnesotans with Developmental Disabilities: A Report to the Citizens and Legislature of the State of Minnesota from the Department of Human Services, page 13, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/past/pdf/90s/96/96-dhs-services-mn-dd.pdf.

22P.L. 104-204, The Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, 29 U.S.C. 1185a; 42 U.S.C. 300gg-5.

23P.L. 104-104, The Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. §§255, 251(a)(2).

24Stolberg, Sheryl Gay, "Ideas & Trends: The Unlisted; Live and Let Die over Transplants," The New York Times, April 5, 1998, available at http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/05/weekinreview/ideas-trends-the-unlisted-live-and-let-die-over-transplants.html.

25P.L. 105-17, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997, 20 U.S.C. §§1400 et seq.

26Biondi, Larry, "MiCASSA legislation to be re-introduced," Ragged Edge, May 2001.

27Minn. Stat. (2009) §§62J.695 – 62J.76.

28P.L. 105-394, The Assistive Technology Act of 1998, 29 U.S.C. §§ 3001 et seq.

29Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support, slides 84-85, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

30Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624 (1998).

31Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, Real Work: The Development of Real Jobs in Typical Work Settings: The 1990s: Presumed Employability, Natural Supports, Careers and Self Employment, slide 68, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

32Minnesota Department of Human Services, The Evolution of State Operated Services, available at https://edocs.dhs.state.mn.us/lfserver/Legacy/DHS-5228-ENG.

33Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

34P.L. 106-170, The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) of 1999, 113 Stat 1860 (December 17, 1999).

35World Wide Web Consortium, press release May 5, 1999, available at http://www.w3.org/1999/05/WCAG-RECPressRelease.html.en.

36Minnesota Department of Human Services, The Evolution of State Operated Services, available at http://sosrecruitment.dhs.state.mn.us/assets/DHS-5228-ENG.pdf.

37Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support, slide 77, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

38Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, With an Eye to the Past; 1990's and Beyond: Equal Rights for All, slide 9, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/past/1990s/1990s-9.html.

39United Stated Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.hhs.gov/.

40Office of Disability Employment Policy, United Stated Department of Labor, Customized Employment: Employers and Workers, Creating a Competitive Edge, pp. 12-13, 2007, available at: http://www.dol.gov/odep/documents/5853adfe_2d90_4dab_a25b_b2959464363b.pdf.

41P.L. 107-110, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 115 Stat. 1425, (January 8, 2002).

42Reynolds, Dave, "The Eugenics Apologies," Ragged Edge, November/December 2003.

43Minnesota Department of Human Services, Pathways to Choice: Minnesota's 2001 Real Choice Systems Change Grant, Final Report Summary, December 2005.

44Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support
slides 76-77, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

45Metro Deaf - Minnesota North Star Academy, http://mdsmn.org/.

46P.L. 108-364, The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 3001 et seq.

47Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities, Parallels in Time II, A Place to Call Home: The Development of Supports for Having a Home in the Community: The 1990s: Explosion of Community Housing, Institution Free States, A Home of Your Own, Expanding Family Support
slide 76, available at https://mn.gov/mnddc/parallels2/index.htm.

48Minnesota Session Laws 2005 Chapter 56, available at: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=56&doctype=chapter&year=2005&type=0

49United Nations, Secretariat for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/rights/convtexte.htm.

50Office of Disability Employment Policy, United Stated Department of Labor, Customized Employment: Employers and Workers, Creating a Competitive Edge, 2007, available at: http://www.dol.gov/odep/documents/5853adfe_2d90_4dab_a25b_b2959464363b.pdf.

51Minnesota Session Laws 2007 Chapter 147, Article 8, available at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=147&doctype=chapter&year=2007&type=0

52P.L. 110- 343, Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, 122 Stat. 3881, (October 3, 2008); U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, "Obama Administration Issues Rules Requiring Parity in Treatment of Mental, Substance Use Disorders", January 29, 2010.

53Office of Disability Employment Policy, United States Department of Labor, Disability History: An Important Part of America's Heritage; Defining the Next Generation, January 2009, available at http://www.dol.gov/odep/documents/Disability%20History_508%20compliant_links.pdf.

54Metro Deaf - Minnesota North Star Academy.

55Minnesota Session Laws 2009, Chapter 131, available at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=131&year=2009&type=0

56Minnesota Session Laws 2010, Resolution 4, House File No. 1680, available at: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?id=4&doctype=resolution&year=2010&type=0.

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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.