Legacy of Disability Civil Rights in the U.S.

Disability Rights are Civil Rights
Event Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Location: San Francisco Main Public Library 100 Larkin St., Learning Studio, 5th Floor

An intergenerational, multiracial panel of disability experts discuss the legacy of the 1977 disability civil rights 504  sit-in. The month-long occupation of the Federal Building at United Nations Plaza  provided San Franciscans with an up-close view of the longest occupation of a federal building in U.S. history.

Four decades later, what is the lasting impact of that pivotal disability rights legislation? Do all disabled Americans have civil rights? If not, why not?

We examine the contemporary situation for disabled Americans through multiple lenses. Corbett Joan O’Toole participated in the 504 sit-in and the subsequent disability rights movement. She focuses on the intersections of disability, gender and queer in her work. Bill Lann Lee, a former White House counsel, provides invaluable perspectives on how disability civil rights fits into a broader civil rights framework.

Ryan Easterly grew up in the post-Americans with Disabilities era. He provides insights on how disabled people, particularly disabled people of color, are and are not served by civil rights approaches. Vyoma Raman, a brilliant high school student and researcher, looks at how disability civil rights intersect with young people, particularly from immigrant families.

The Main Library is wheelchair accessible. To request other accommodations, contact marti.goddard@sfpl.org or call 415-557-4557Requesting accommodations at least 72 hours in advance will help to ensure availability.


Headshot, Corbett O'Toole

Corbett Joan O'Toole is the author of Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History, a finalist for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award and selected as one of five Must Read books on American Women by the Women’s March. In 1977 she was a 504 sit-in occupier. She is co-founder of Reclamation Press where she is publishing 4 books by disabled authors that reflect the wisdom of disability communities. A long-time disability rights activist and community scholar, Corbett frequently writes and lectures on disabled peoples’ perspectives particularly those of women and queers.


Headshot of Bill

Bill Lann Lee is Senior Counsel at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC). He has brought disability access cases against Netflix to obtain closed captioning on behalf of the National Association of the Deaf, and against Burger King and Walmart on behalf of individuals who use wheelchairs for mobility.  He was the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division in the United States Department of Justice in the Clinton Administration and managed the enforcement of federal civil rights statutes.  Earlier in his career, he spent 18 years as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.


Shot of Ryan standing with arm crutches.

Ryan Easterly is the Executive Director of WITH Foundation. He is an experienced philanthropist, strategist, and advocate. He was Co-Founder and Director at MySupport, Inc. Previously he worked at the HSC Foundation and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. In 2016, President Obama appointed him to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. He serves on the boards of Community Resources for Independent Living and the Ala Costa Centers. He is widely regarded as an expert on education, leadership development, employment, and healthcare impacting communities of color, the foster care system, and the LGBT+ community. 


Headshot of Vyoma in a classroom setting, raising her hand

Vyoma Raman is a high school student, researcher, and was a finalist in the 2017 National History Day California competition. She is currently an intern with the Paul Longmore Institute at San Francisco State University where she designed and implemented a research project examining the language choices of  teenagers when describing people with disabilities.

E-mail: pklinst@sfsu.edu