504 Demonstration
CBS News

Twenty five years ago this month I participated in the longest occupation of a Federal building in U.S. history.  Over one hundred people with disabilities, parents of kids with disabilities,  and non-disabled supporters staged an unexpected civil disobedience action that has remained an unsung chapter of America's Civil right's legacy.  The demonstration occurred to press for the signing of regulations to finally implement Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The Rehab Act was passed over President Nixon's veto.  Section 504, was the controversial piece of the law, promising Americans with disabilities an end to discrimination.  As a candidate, Jimmy Carter committed in Warm Springs Georgia, that, if elected, he would have the regulations signed that would finally implement that civil rights law.  Those drafted regs had languished for four years. We learned that new drafts would offer the unacceptable alternative of "separate but equal" accommodations.  So, in early April, 1977, the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, organized demonstrations at Federal buildings to press for the signing of the long overdue regulations that would finally insure our civil rights.

I was the blind guy with the bull horn, leading chants as we rallied in front of the Federal building in San Francisco, and I was the troubadour with the guitar who used the tool of song, learned from the civil rights movement of the sixties to communicate the issues for which we stood.  We entered the building and settled in for the duration until regulations were signed.  For nearly an entire month the demonstrators lived on the sixth floor of the Federal building to pressure the Carter Administration to sign the promised regulations.  I was not one of the heroic scores of people who lived within the difficult circumstances of the Federal building full time, I commuted back and forth to the demonstration in order to fulfill my responsibilities at home to my wife and infant son.  But thoughts of that monumental accomplishment come to mind This month as we celebrate that historic turning point.

I stayed several nights and I recall helping to get Hale, a man with severe cerebral palsy out of his wheel chair and bedded down on the hard carpeted floor.  we became a community supporting each other in genuine and humble ways.  Today, the broad-reaching Americans With Disabilities Act is grounded in the principles of Section 504.  Our society has become more inclusive although we have a long way to go.  Thanks to those brave  individuals whose tenacity and personal sacrifice a quarter century ago have helped to make a more just society for all of us.

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