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The path of legislation benefitting those with disabilities has been a relatively short one for this country considering most of the legislation has occurred during the past century. The following list, while not inclusive of all the laws, gives some indication as to how the concept of "providing vocational opportunities" has evolved into the concept of "equal rights and access." Included, too, are major sociological events related to legislation and disability rights.
1916 -- The National Defense Act provided an opportunity for soldiers to receive instruction to facilitate their return to civilian life; for the first time legislatively the country recognized its obligation to persons injured in service to their country.
1917 -- The Smith-Hughes Act established the Federal-State Program in vocational education; created a Federal Board of Vocational Education with the authority and responsibility for vocational rehabilitation of disabled veterans.
1918 -- The Smith-Sears Veterans Rehabilitation Act expanded the role of the Federal Board of Vocational Education to provide services for vocational rehabilitation of veterans disabled during World War I; also referred to as the Soldier's Rehabilitation Act.
1920 -- The Smith-Fess Act (referred to as the Civilian Rehabilitation Act) began the rehabilitation program for all Americans with disabilities patterned after the Soldiers Rehabilitation Act; established the Federal-State program in rehabilitation and provided funds to state (50/50 match) for primarily vocational services: vocational guidance, training, occupational adjustment, prosthetics, and placement services; only for persons with physical disabilities; it did not include physical restoration or social orientation rehabilitation.
1935 -- The Social Security Act was enacted to establish an income maintenance system that targeted those unable to work; included provisions furnishing medical and therapeutic services for crippled children and made permanent the vocational Rehabilitation program; provided for continuous authorizations, increased grant awards, and increased support from the federal government.
1936 -- The Randolph-Sheppard Act recognized that person who were blind had vocational potential; gave state the authority to license qualified persons with blindness to operate vending stands in federal buildings.
1938 -- The Wagner-O'Day Act required the federal government to purchase designated products from workshops for persons who were blind.
1943 -- The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments (Barden-LaFollette Act) made substantial changes in the federal/state program of rehabilitation; broadened the program's financial provisions, offered a comprehensive definition of vocational rehabilitation, expanded services to include physical restoration, and each state had to submit a written plan for approval by the federal agency as to how federal/state dollars would be used; expansion of services included on a limited basis person who were mentally handicapped and mentally ill; fostered separate agencies for general rehabilitation and rehabilitation of person who were blind.
1948 -- To aid returning World War II veterans, Congress passed legislation prohibiting discrimination based on physical handicap in United States Civil Service employment.
1954 -- The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments reshaped the roles of the federal and state government in the rehabilitation program; established the basis for a working relationship between public and private rehabilitation and expanded the role of the state agency; established funding sources for (1) college and university training of rehabilitation professionals; (2) improvement and remodeling of rehabilitation facilities; and (3) research and demonstration grants; increased federal funding to states (3 federal dollars for each 2 dollars from the state); increased services to persons with mental retardation and mental illness through items (2) and (3) above, along with agency expansion and improvement grants.
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