The Dickensian Disability Rights Movement – The Forgotten Origins of Accessibility, Inclusion, and the Medical Model, 1863-1923
Shaw’s presentation, “The Dickensian Disability Rights Movement – The Forgotten Origins Of The Medical Model, Accessibility and Inclusion, 1863-1923,” is a groundbreaking exploration of a forgotten version of the Disability Rights Movement, whose legacy is both precedent setting and deeply paradoxical. The paper covers the social conditions that led to the first emergence of disability as a social and demographic issue in New York City, in the 1860s, and the City’s response to that new demographic. It follows that social response as it flowered into a social movement in the Progressive Era, thanks largely to the influence of America’s first disability rights activist. This new social movement grew rapidly between 1900 and 1920, developing national scale, a substantial body of literature, and additional activists, only to wither in the 1920s, along with the rest of the Progressive Movement; ironically, its most visible legacy is the system we now castigate as the medical model. This 19th-20th Century movement bears important lessons for us today, but it is almost completely forgotten; this paper seeks to redress that imbalance.