Disability Independence Day

The Disability Rights Movement in the United States is a difficult and ongoing fight. From inaccessible buses and buildings to today’s inaccessible websites, the disability community has a long legacy of protesting for equal access. On March 12, 1990, more than 1,000 disabled people gathered at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, to advocate for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The path to reach the members of the House, where ADA legislation had stalled, was up 83 stone steps. For dozens of people with mobility impairments, this stairway exemplified the never-ending barriers that cause disability. Under the social model of disability, when people have to navigate an environment filled not only with physical barriers but social and communication barriers that limit access, this results in disability.

In a bold display, more than 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices and began making their way up those 83 stone steps; it became known as the Capitol Crawl.

A disabled man on his knees and a disabled woman scooting ascend the US Capitol steps.
Members of ADAPT during the Capitol Crawl / Photo credit: Tom Olin

The sight of people literally dragging themselves up stairs to demand equal accommodation left an indelible image on the US public and lawmakers. The Capitol Crawl is credited with being the most influential event to lead to the signing of the ADA on July 26, 1990. Today, we celebrate this landmark piece of legislation as Disability Independence Day.

Accommodations—like curb cuts, ramps and elevators—that make the environment easier for all people to navigate daily life are just some of what the ADA promises. As digital creators, we have a responsibility to extend these rights online when people use websites, kiosks and mobile applications. Since the Web was not around in 1990, it is not mentioned in the ADA, but many accessibility lawsuits have ruled that Title III of the ADA applies to digital commerce. If you want your product to be innovative and inclusive, design with disabled people in mind.