Disability Timeline

Disability Timeline

Modern History - A Timeline: 


  • Policies and legislation which favored lifelong institutionalization, incarceration and segregation of people with disabilities, particularly children, were the norm;
  • People institutionalized or incarcerated have no legal right to challenge their detention;
  • Multiple international examples of systematic and sanctioned murder of people with disabilities especially women and children.

Early 1900s:

  • People with learning difficulties are categorized within international legislations as 'idiots', 'imbeciles', 'feeble-minded' or 'morally defective';
  • The British Eugenics Society leads a movement which purports that offering medical and social services to people with disabilities would 'lead to the degeneration of the human race';
  • International policies which favor the confinement, segregation, sterilization and lobotomization of people with disabilities are the norm;
  • Commencement of international legislation in favor of the compulsory forced sterilization of people with disabilities.  Many such pieces of legislation were not repealed until the 1970s.


  • Commencement of systematic murder of people with disabilities in Nazi Germany via involuntary euthanasia, leading to an estimated 275,000 deaths.


  • First international movements from institutionalization to community care;
  • Widespread systematic forced sterilization of people with disabilities;
  • Expansion of laws governing the compulsory sterilization of people with disabilities to include women 'at risk' of giving birth to a child with disabilities.


  • The first official Paralympic Games held.


  • England passes the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which is the first in the world to recognize the rights of people with disabilities, and includes the provision of welfare assistance, housing and equal rights to recreational and educational facilities.


  • UN Convention on the Rights of Mentally Retarded Persons .
      • UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled  Persons.


      • International Year of Disabled Persons.


      • UN World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons.


      • UN International Decade of Disabled Persons.


      • Many countries adopt provisions within anti-discrimination legislation to include people with disabilities;
      • Significant increase in numbers of disability advocacy and rights organisations globally.


      • UN adoption of the Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and for the Improvement of Mental Health Care.


      • UN Proclamation of International Day of People with Disabilities (3rd December).


      • UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities.


      • The World Summit for Social Development's Programme of Action recognized the pressing need for the full participation and equality of people living with disabilities;
      • The World Conference for Women recognized the additional discrimination faced by women with disabilities.


      • UN resolution 52/107 calling for the full and equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by children with disabilities.


      • Significant case law (internationally) reflecting the empowerment of people with disabilities.  Such case law includes access to employment, education, facilities and transport, electoral processes, and healthcare;
      • Shift of public policy towards self-directed models of support for people with disabilities (Personalization in the UK [2003], the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia [2013]).


      • The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) endorsed  by the World Health Organisation.


      • Adoption of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD);
      • Ratification of the CRPD by 163 countries, and the commencement of the development of legislation to guarantee the human rights of people with disabilities in most countries;
      • Launch of the UN Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies.


      • UN and World Health Organisation's releases joint international statement 'Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization'.


      • Continued  implementation of policy, legislative and social change agendas;
      • Enhanced sophistication of advocacy bodies coupled with well-aligned social policy platforms.