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How Polio Changed Us, Disability Rights

Quote. The systematic denial of the chance to work, joined with restrictions on education, marriage, and most forms of social intercourse, have entailed what amounts to  social death.  End Quote. Paul Longmore, 2003

Many people who had been injured by the poliovirus became discouraged when they returned home and encountered environmental barriers and discrimination. Some were among the most eloquent and influential leaders of the disability rights movement. Their message has been that disability is a social and civil rights issue, not simply a medical problem.

Left image. Poster stating, paralytic polio is increasing again. Vaccinate your family now against polio. Week of May 11 is polio vaccination week
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Right image. Newspaper clipping showing a man between two children in wheelchairs. Man has a sign stating, tonight I am a mother
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Left: March of Dimes poster of Cyndi Jones as a poster child in Saint Louis, Missouri, 1956 Courtesy of Cyndi Jones
Right: Newspaper clipping of Cyndi Jones and another little girl seated in wheelchairs in front of a giant American flag, along with a man wearing a sash that reads, “Tonight I Am a Mother,” Saint Louis Dispatch, 1956

Independent Living

“The goal [of independent living centers] need not necessarily be employment, but preparation and assistance to live in the larger community rather than in nursing homes or institutions…. In the early 1970s, the first independent living centers were organized in Berkeley, Houston, and Boston.”
—Paul Longmore, 2003

“For centuries, disabled people had been locked up in state-owned or state-subsidized institutions. We will never know how many lives were wasted, how many intellects dulled, how many souls murdered, through that system. The people who began and ran this system were good people who thought of themselves as reformers helping the helpless. But they never asked us what we wanted.”
—Mark O’Brien, 2003

Photo of an early 20th century wheelchair
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Early-20th-century wicker-backed invalid’s wheelchair

Photo of a motorized wheelchair
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This motorized wheelchair was custom-made for Ed Roberts around 1978. It has a Recaro ergonomic seat, go-cart wheels, and a top speed of eight miles an hour. Courtesy of Zona Roberts

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    Cyndi Jones becomes an activist  
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