English Dutch French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish


Reform to Equal Rights - Disability History Curriculum

Young students smile and sign the Star Spangled Banner, in front of 48-star United States flag.
Deaf students perform the Star Spangled Banner. c. 1918. J. R. Schmidt, photographer. Library of Congress.


Logo of Reform to Equal Rights curriculum.







Disability History as Empowerment 

Reform to Equal Rights traces evolving struggles across two centuries by people with disabilities for necessary resources for life and work, services, and political and civil rights. The curriculum emphasizes evidence-based student investigation of policy, culture, media, social change, and activism, always emphasizing the actions, experiences, and voices of people with disabilities. Nearly 250 primary sources support inquiry. The curriculum highlights opportunities throughout for students to participate in inclusive civic engagement projects. Lessons integrate with common content: reformers, impacts of wars, immigration, changing roles of government, social movements, and civic engagement. Read about the curriculum principles and design process at Developing a K-12 Disability History Curriculum

    Please share your input

    Please tell us what works well and what needs to be improved about Reform to Equal Rights. Link to input form

    Get the latest updates

    • Sign up for the monthly History eNews at the bottom of the page, including news on Disability History Resources and Updates. 
    • Email Rich Cairn rcairn <@> to learn more or to schedule professional development for your network. 
    • Follow Emerging America Twitter and Facebook.  



    Thanks to project historian, Graham Warder, the Easterseals Massachusetts #TeachDisabilityHistory campaign group, and the rest of the project advisory committee. Emerging America is grateful to Laurie Block, Graham Warder, and other creators of the Disability History Museum

    A classroom in a children's school with a blackboard and equipment in the background. A group of children are sitting or standing in front of a medical table, and one boy is laying down in front of the table. A nurse in a white uniform leans over the boy, adjusting his leg. Eleanor Roosevelt, wearing a large fur coat, smiles down at the boy from behind the table. The children have cheerful expressions.
    Grades K-3: Disability and Community Leadership
    A unit of three lessons introduces disability and involves students in making the classroom inclusive. 
    Screen cap from a film of George Veditz wearing a suit and giving a speech in American Sign Language.
    Grades 4-5: Disability, Civics, and Civil Rights
    Four lessons include an introduction to disability, immigration study, and the long history of disability activism as a movement for civil rights. 
    A poster featuring a drawing of a young person looking up towards the viewer. They have short black hair and wear glasses and a T-shirt that says "Disabled & Proud" and has a plaid button down shirt over the top. The poster says "We the future are building Disability Justice."
    Grades 6-8: Disability, Civic Engagement, and Government
    Five lessons introduce disability history and explore the long history of activism and work for laws and policies.
    A portrait of Dorothea Lynde Dix, a middle aged woman with dark hair swept back from her face. She wears a formal dress and undershirt. She sits on a wooden chair with ornate scrollwork and rests her arm on a table. She looks to her right with a calm expression.
    Grades 8-10: Founding of Schools and Asylums
    Three lessons introduce disability history and explore the creation of institutions by 19th century reformers.
    A picture of a sprawling campus fo the National Soldiers Home shows residences, workshops, fields, and woods.
    Grades 8-10: How Civil War Veterans Transformed Disability
    Including an intro to disability history, six lessons examine stories of nurses and disabled veterans, and profiles of institutions serving veterans.
    A photo of a group of older men wearing suits and top hats outside of the White House. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stands in the center of the group, his trademark large white mustache is visible.
    Grades 9-12: Disability in the Progressive Era

    Two lessons introduce disability history and examine the impacts and flaws of the eugenics movement. Adapt a grades 4-5 lesson on immigration and disability. 

    A photograph of President George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. He is seated at a table outside, there is a fountain in the background. Four other people surround the table, three men and one woman, two men are using wheelchairs. Justin Dart sits to the president's left, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, a suit, and a button that supports the ADA on his lapel.
    Grades 9-12: The Long Struggle for Disability Rights
    Four lessons begin with an intro to disability history.

    Upcoming Workshops

    July 15 - 8:30am - 3pm - Collaborative for Educational Services, 97 Hawley Street, Northampton, Massachusetts. Register. This workshop is full. Email events@co…
    Join DESE Civics Pathways Professional Learning The DESE Civics Pathways are an initiative of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Educat…
    Network with thousands of dynamic educators from across the country for the 104th annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, including th…