The Legacy of Disability Rights & Lived Experience at Penn State

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Celebrating the ADA: The Legacy of Disability Rights & Lived Experience at Penn State is a digital exhibition that explores the first 100 years of national disability rights legislation and movements’ impact on the Pennsylvania State University community. This exhibition is the result of a February 2020 conversation between University Libraries and Student Disability Resources, seeking to enhance cross-campus collaboration in building awareness and providing support to the Penn State community through the recognition of the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 2020. The global spread of COVID-19 and transition to a remote work environment made producing a physical exhibition impossible, so a shift was made to an online environment. This virtual exhibition features digitized student newspaper articles gathered from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive and digitized materials from the Eberly Family Special Collections Library to highlight the University community’s awareness and efforts towards accessibility.

In June 1920, US President Woodrow Wilson signed the “Smith Fess Act” (also known as the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act), which expanded vocational rehabilitation opportunities and services to include, in addition to World War I Veterans, all Americans with disabilities. In the 70 years following the Smith Fess Act, a multitude of legislative actions were adopted that focused on recognition of the civil and employment rights of those with disabilities. The passage of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 criminalized discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The ADA is a civil rights law intended to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as any other individual. The civil rights protections of the ADA for individuals with disabilities are similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. Learn more about ADA here.

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