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In This Issue

For centuries people with disabilities were thought to be helpless, indigent citizens, and were forced into institutions and asylums without equal opportunity or equal protection under the law. The disability rights movement of the 1960s marked a critical turning point with the rise of a grassroots effort that eventually led to the legislative victories of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 (renamed IDEA in 1990) and the ADA in 1990.

People with disabilities today make up one-fifth of the population in the United States, and cut across multiple lines of identity including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and age.

Despite the fact that people with disabilities represent the largest demographic group in the nation, the disability community remains largely invisible and continues to face architectural barriers, discriminatory policies, and negative attitudes on a daily basis.

According to a 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation poll, a large majority of the public (82%) believes that life has gotten better for people with disabilities in the last fifty years. However, six in ten adults say that people with disabilities have too little influence in our society and about two-thirds (65%) say there is a lot or some discrimination against people with disabilities in this country today.

As Carol Gill, a chief disability rights advocate, observes, “We have been viewed too much in terms of our diagnoses and too little in terms of our personhood…Most of our problems are caused not by our bodies but by a society that refuses to accommodate our differences.”

The lessons included in this curriculum unit seek to challenge myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities and to promote awareness of various forms of disability. The first three lessons are designed to explore a broad range of physical disabilities with elementary students.

The fourth lesson introduces middle school students to the science behind learning disabilities, and seeks to remove the stigma around this invisible disability by engaging students in an exploration of multiple intelligence and the broad range of human learning styles.

In the fifth and final lesson, high school students explore the historical legacy of bias and discrimination toward people with disabilities, and learn about the self-advocacy and self-determination of disability rights activists. In addition to the lesson plans, various resources on disability are included for educators and students, such as communication guidelines on disability, a school assessment of environmental access to people with disabilities, and a terminology reference sheet on disability. 

By raising awareness about different types of disability and the struggle for equal treatment and equal access, these educational activities challenge the “idealized notion of ‘normality’ against which disabled people are constantly compared,” and force a re-evaluation of ableist beliefs and policy.

Image: “Shadow of a Disability”, by Tamer, World Health Organization. The photo "Shadow of a Disability" by Tamer is one of 33 awarded photographs from the World Health Organization photo contest "Images of Health and Disability 2005". The contest has been organized in order to promote the understanding and use of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF),


Len Barton, “The Struggle for Citizenship: The Case of Disabled People,” Disability, Handicap, and Society 8, no. 3 (1993): 235-48.

Carol Gill, “Becoming visible: Personal health experiences of women with physical disabilities”, Women with physical disabilities: Achieving and maintaining health and well-being (p.9), Krotoski, Nosek & Turk, Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 1996.

Kaiser Family Foundation, “ Americans’ Views of Disability”, Kaiser HealthPoll Report, June 2004.

The Promise of Never Again
Lesson Plans
  • Lesson 1: Getting To Know People with Physical Disabilities
(Grades K - 2)
  • Lesson 2: Experiencing Hearing Disability through Music
(Grades 2 - 4)
  • Lesson 3: Seeing the World through the Hands of People with a Visual Disability
(Grades 4 - 6)
  • Lesson 4: Understanding Learning Differences
(Grades 6 - 9)
  • Lesson 5: History of the Disability Rights Movement
(Grades 10 - 12)
  • ADA Signing Ceremony
  • Assessing Your School Environment for Access to People with Disabilities
  • Evaluating Children’s Books that Address Disability
  • A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement
  • Communication Guidelines on Disability
  • Disability Glossary
  • Famous People with Disabilities
  • List of Disability-Related Organizations
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources

 Words that Heal ©2005 Anti-Defamation League