About this collection
This collection is comprised of oral history interviews conducted for the multimedia historical exhibit “Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights” presented by the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. Interviews were conducted in Spring 2014 in a shared effort by the Longmore Institute staff and students in Journalism 321and History 484 at San Francisco State University. All interviews are published with free and unrestricted public access with permission obtained from each interviewee. Click here to read a blog post by the Longmore Institute Director with additional details about our oral history process. This project was made possible with support from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at San Francisco State University as well as from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit www.calhum.org.
On April 5, 1977, American people with and without disabilities showed the world the power of grassroots activism. In San Francisco, more than 100 people began a twenty-six day occupation of the Federal Building to insist on getting civil rights. Four years earlier, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 made it illegal for any federally funded facilities or programs to discriminate against disabled people. One signature from the head of Health Education and Welfare (HEW) stood in the way of the law taking effect. People waited and waited. At last, in 1977, frustration turned into bold action; A diverse coalition launched protests across the country. San Francisco's occupation was the most significant. On April 30, 1977, San Francisco's Section 504 occupiers emerged victorious from the longest take-over of a federal building in US history. A national disability rights movement was born.
While each protester’s story is unique, some common themes surface in this collection. Many protesters discuss being unaware of how long the occupation would last when they started and detail daily life in an office building, such as make-shift refrigerators, getting food and medication, sleeping arrangements and recreation/partying to pass the time. Interviewees discuss the personal changes they experienced from participating in this effort and finding disability community. Many subjects recall the tremendous support they received from other social justice groups, from labor unions to the Black Panthers. Several of the oral histories note a perceived hierarchy among protesters by race, gender, and disability. Protesters who traveled to Washington DC include stories of picketing outside of Health Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano’s lawn and waiting for President Jimmy Carter outside his church. Many interviewees, including disability law experts, discuss the impact of 504 on the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
About the Interviewees:
Not all interviewees were present at the 504 protest; three were included because they came to the Bay Area shortly afterward and offered interesting perspectives on the climate post-504.
82.5% of the interviewees identify as white; 17.5% as people of color, a breakdown which, according to our sources, falls short of participation at the time (estimated 20% people of color).
It is difficult to offer exact numbers for interviewees' disability status, since some had overlapping disabilities while others became disabled since 1977. Rough samples conclude that 42.5% of the interviewees identify primarily as a person who is mobility impaired; 27.5% identify as nondisabled allies; 10% identify as blind; 10% live with invisible disabilities (including ADHD, multiple chemical sensitivity, depression, dyslexia, and other impairments); 5% identify as cognitively disabled; and 5% identify as Deaf.
21 of the interviewees were women; 19 were men; 0 identified as transgendered or genderqueer.