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Empowering Every Voice: Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK)'s Unseen Contributions to Disability Advocacy

January 16, 2024 | by sau1admin

Martin Luther King Jr. with words that describe his leadership, like strong, nonviolent, respectful, and inclusive in the background.

Today, SAU1 takes the time to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights leader and a powerful advocate. He advocated for the civil rights of all minorities. This included but was not limited to African Americans, women, and even those with disabilities. He liked to peacefully make a difference in society through leading marches and holding speeches in demonstrations without violence. He is most known for his “I Have a Dream” speech and the March On Washington, which took place near the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King was important because he spoke up for the rights of others. By speaking up, Dr. King was able to make change happen.

Dr. King and his followers worked very hard and were able to be a big part of making change happen for people of color. Before he was assassinated, Dr. King was an important part of ending discrimination. After his death, people wanted to honor him for his bravery and for speaking up, so they proposed the idea of celebrating his life on his birthday every year. This is how we came to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day was not celebrated all over the United States until 1986. If you wish to read more about Dr. King and how Martin Luther King Jr. Day started, check out the Encyclopedia Britannica article.

Alongside the Civil Rights Movement, the Disability Rights Movement was also moving forward. Those with disabilities agreed with much of what Dr. King was saying and wanted to make that part of their own lives. An article by the Center for People With Disabilities says that The Civil Rights Act was officially passed in 1964. This act protected against discrimination of people of color, and discrimination based on “religion, gender, or nationality” in the workplace. It took another 13 years (until 1977) before people with disabilities got similar legislation passed that would give us freedom from discrimination. That legislation is called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. This law states, “that no one could be denied federal funds on the basis of (dis)ability, whereas previously they were.” Another 13 years after Section 504 became law, in July 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

Before each of these laws were passed, people with disabilities advocated through peaceful protests the way Dr. King taught. Examples are the Capitol Crawl which happened on March 13, 1990 and the 504 Sit-In in April and May of 1977.

Dr. King’s main goal was for all people to be treated fairly based on what works for them and how they want to be treated (equity) and to have the same access to the world around them. Without the example of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. many minorities would not be where they are today. The disability community thanks Dr. King for his example, and for teaching us how to speak up for what we want and need. SAU1 is all about speaking up and using your voice for peaceful power. Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for teaching us this valuable and still ever present lesson!

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