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Disability Rights Movement Essay Scholarships

People with disabilities are rapidly becoming more and more prevalent as college students. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), students with disabilities made up 11.1 percent of all college students in the 2011-2012 school year. That number is nearly doubled among students who are also veterans. Students with mobility disabilities, sensory disabilities, mental health disabilities, and other disabilities continue to pursue higher education in expanding numbers, thanks in part to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects them from discrimination related to their disabilities. Titles II and III of the ADA require both public and private institutions, such as colleges, to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, and that they make accommodations to communicate with people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities.

While laws like the ADA do help, they are not the end of the unique challenges that people with disabilities face when they seek a college education. People who use wheelchairs may find that buttons for the automated opening of doors do not work, or that accommodations may not have been prepared for them in the event of a fire. A lack of awareness can lead to students with disabilities being forced to go without needed help, and up to two-thirds of college students with disabilities don’t receive resources because their school doesn’t know about their disability. Lack of disability access can also affect a student’s ability to form relationships with peer and study groups.

Students with disabilities often have a larger financial burden than those without. Specialized equipment and medical care can be prohibitively expensive, particularly when also paying for a college education. This is why scholarships for students with disabilities are so important. The extra boost in financial security can be the difference between attending college or not attending college. To that end, we have compiled a handy data set meant to help people with disabilities find the help that can take them through graduation.

Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurologically based difficulties that may affect a student’s ability to read, do math, write, communicate, or perform other actions. Some of the disabilities under this definition are auditory processing disorder (APD), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, language processing disorder, nonverbal learning disabilities, and visual perceptual/visual motor deficit. Note: scholarships specifically directed at students with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are included in their own separate categories, though people with either may also qualify for the scholarships listed here.

Anne Ford Scholarship

Provided by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Anne Ford Scholarship awards $10,000 ($2,500 per year over four years) to a graduating high school student with a documented learning disability who will be enrolled full-time to pursue a bachelor’s degree. The scholarship requires a 3.0 grade average, United States citizenship, and documentation of financial need and learning disability diagnosis. Ideal candidates will be passionate self-advocates, participants in community activities, and dedicated to being role models for others with learning disabilities. Applications for the 2018 school year will open in the fall of 2017.

Armando J. de Moya Scholarship

The de Moya Group, one of the largest bridge-building firms in Florida, creates and supports many programs designed to aid people with special needs. One of those programs is a $5,000 scholarship for students with disabilities. Applicants must be Florida residents attending the University of Florida who maintain a 3.0 grade average, major in civil engineering, and have earned 59 university credits. Tax documents, proof of financial need, two letters of recommendation, and proof of volunteer work are required. The deadline is March 2018.

John Lepping Memorial Scholarship

This $5,000 scholarship is open to any person with a disability, including learning disabilities. Applicants must reside in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, submit proof of disabled status, demonstrate academic achievement, and write an essay detailing how their disability affects their ability to attend school. Included in the application must be a transcript of grades, three letters of recommendation from non-family members, and a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018.

Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards

This $6,000 award is open to Learning Ally members with learning disabilities. Members must be active subscribers to Learning Ally who have added one book to their Learning Ally bookshelf within the last 12 months. The three top winners will be presented with their awards at the National Achievement Awards Gala, Learning Ally’s annual Student Success and Achievement Summit in the spring of each year. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2018

Ralph D. Norman Scholarship

Three Arkansas graduating seniors are awarded these $2,500 scholarships for students with learning disabilities annually. Documentation of a learning disability is required, as is enrollment at a university, two-year community college, or a vocational/technical training program, Applicants are expected to demonstrate community service, commitment to higher education, and perseverance to succeed despite having a learning disability. The deadline to apply is April 3, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities are limitations on a person’s movement, dexterity, or stamina. They may also include conditions that do not directly impair ability, but inhibit other areas of living such as sleep disorders or epilepsy. Some disabilities in this area are paraplegia, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, effects from head injuries or strokes, loss or malformation of limbs, and muscular dystrophy.

AbbVie Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship

Exceptional students living with cystic fibrosis are eligible for this scholarship. Forty awards of $3,000 each are given out every year, in addition to two Thriving Student Scholarships that total $25,000, and a $25,000 Blogger’s Choice Award. The awards are open to United States residents who have a cystic fibrosis diagnosis from a doctor and who are enrolled in or awaiting acceptance to an accredited higher learning institution. Employees of AbbVie and their immediate families, as well as healthcare providers and immediate families, are not eligible to apply. The application deadline is May 27, 2018.

CHASA Scholarship for Childhood Stroke Survivors

These scholarships are targeted at students with a diagnosis of hemiplegia or hemiparesis due to any cause before the age of 18, or a diagnosis of pediatric stroke. Recipients may reapply for the scholarship every year for up to four years, and applicants must be enrolled at an accredited university. An essay and a doctor’s diagnosis are required. The number of scholarships and their amounts vary from year to year. The deadline to apply is August 31, 2017.

Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

Students with visible or invisible disabilities are eligible for this $10,000 scholarship to be used while pursuing an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree in computer engineering or science. Selected students will also be invited to attend the annual Google Scholars’ Retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. This scholarship is not open to high school students, only students currently enrolled in a college or university. Canadian students are also eligible. Two letters of recommendation and three essays are required. The deadline to apply is December 6, 2017.

Soozie Courter Hemophilia Scholarship Program

Five $4,000 graduate scholarships and ten $2,500 college scholarships for students with disabilities living with hemophilia A or hemophilia B are available. Applicants must submit a persuasive essay, letters of recommendation, and proof of good academic standing. A diagnosis of hemophilia A or hemophilia B is also required. The deadline to apply is May 6, 2018.

Rheumatoid Patient Foundation Scholarship Program

Four awards of $1,000 each are given out annually by the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation in order to help those affected by rheumatoid diseases further their educations. Applicants must be United States residents, submit an essay, and confirm a diagnosis of rheumatoid disease. The scholarship can be used for colleges or vocational schools. Previous awardees are not eligible. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

A broad range of mental health and psychiatric impairments are covered under this term. Everything from chronic depression to schizophrenia may constitute a psychiatric disability. As those with mental illness often face stereotyping and negative misconceptions, helping them through college financially can ease their stress significantly.

Baer Reintegration Scholarship

This scholarship covers all or part of tuitions across all degree levels. Applicants must have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder, and they currently must be receiving treatment. They must also be actively involved in rehabilitation or reintegration volunteer work. Students must submit transcripts, an essay, recommendation letters, and a summary of school financial needs. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2018.

Karen Aberson Memorial Scholarship

Students with any type of disability are eligible for this $500 scholarship, but preference is given to those with documented psychological/emotional disabilities. Students must be currently enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, must complete at least six credit hours per semester, and must maintain a 2.0 grade average. Applications are available annually from March 15 to May 15.

DRK Attorneys Mental Health Scholarship

Students who have struggled with mental illness are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. They will be expected to submit a one- to three-page essay explaining how mental illness has affected their lives and the ways they have managed to overcome those obstacles. Recipients must be willing to have their story publicly shared, though they may do so anonymously if preferred. Other requirements include being a United States citizen currently enrolled at a college and a 3.0 GPA. The deadline for application is August 1, 2017.

Hannah Heltsley Memorial Scholarship

This $500 scholarship can be applied to both tuition and books at Shoreline Community College. It is open to students who have struggled with mental illness or addiction, who are required to write an essay detailing how their disability has affected their education. Students must also have completed two quarters at Shoreline and have a 3.0 GPA. The annual deadline to apply is in April.

Lillian Cooper Droke Memorial Scholarship

A $2,000 scholarship is available to residents of Tarrant County (Texas) who have been diagnosed with mental illness. The scholarship is also open to those who would like to work in the mental health field, provided no applicant with mental illness qualifies for the scholarship. Applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA and have a declared major in psychology, social work, psychiatry/mental/behavioral health, social and behavioral sciences, behavioral/cognitive neuroscience, mental health or rehabilitative counseling or nursing, or cognitive development. A short essay about mental health is required. The deadline to apply is August 14, 2017.

Scholarships for Students with Visual or Hearing Impairments

These are disabilities that affect the senses, primarily seeing or hearing. People with these disabilities have may have partial to total blindness or deafness, and as a result may have difficulty with navigation and communications. Some disabilities can be aided through devices or service animals.

Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) William and Dorothy Ferrell Scholarship

Legally blind students looking to pursue a career in the field of services to persons who are blind or visually impaired are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. It is open to people of all countries. Applicants are required to submit letters of recommendation and a brief autobiographical sketch. The deadline to apply is in May of 2018.

Dean Ritter Foundation Scholarship

Illinois residents with severe to profound hearing loss in either one or both ears are eligible for these scholarships for hearing impaired students. Awards range from $500 to $5,000. The Foundation will give special consideration for financial need, but it is not a requirement for acceptance. The date for accepting applications begins annually in March.

National Federation of the Blind 2017 Scholarship Program

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) gives out more than $120,000 in various scholarships for students with disabilities every year, and they partner with other entities such as Google and The Kurzweil Foundation to provide additional cash awards and prizes such as plaques. Applicants must be legally blind in both eyes and attend the annual summer NFB convention, participating in all the scholarship activities. A few of the scholarships require specific majors or fields. Awards range from $3,000 to $12,000. See the link above for full details on the different scholarship opportunities available. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2018.

American Foundation for the Blind Scholarships

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) offers four annual scholarships for the visually impaired, with awards ranging from $1,000 to $3,500. Students must be studying engineering, music, or rehabilitation of the blind to qualify for the various awards. A three-part essay and two letters of recommendation are required to apply. Proof of blindness via a professional diagnosis is also necessary. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with ADD/ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 6.8 million children according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There are three types: inattentive ADHD, where a person has trouble focusing, or is easily distracted, has difficulty organizing, or a combination of these symptoms (ADD is the now-outdated term for this type); hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, which is characterized by excited behavior, an inability to stay still, and blurting; and combined ADHD, which is a mixture of the other two. Adults with ADHD may range from mild to severe. ADHD is often covered in many of the scholarships regarding learning disabilities previously listed.

Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship

Students who qualify for this ADHD scholarship receive $2,000 and a year of ADHD coaching. There are 50 such awards given out annually. Applicants must be enrolled or accepted in an undergraduate or graduate course, have a diagnosis of ADHD, and be under medical care for it. Interested parties can sign up for updates on when the 2018 applications will be open at the link above. Canadian students can apply here.

Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award

This award is open to students with both learning disabilities and ADHD who have achieved great success in the fields of art, music, science, math, athletics, or community service. One scholarship of $1,000 is given out annually. Applicants must submit a written description of the nominee’s learning disability or ADHD and achievement (including the impact the achievement has had on the nominee and others), a personal statement from the nominee describing how they have dealt with the challenges associated with the learning disability or ADHD, supporting materials that confirm or demonstrate the nominee’s achievement, documented proof of the candidate’s learning disability or ADHD, and a recent photo of the nominee. The deadline to apply is December 31, 2017.

Novotni College Scholarship Fund

Awards of $1,000, $3,000, and $5,000 are given out every year for tuition with these scholarships. Undergraduates seeking to apply must have a diagnosis of ADHD and submit letters of recommendation. Previous award winners are allowed to reapply every year. The application deadline is May 31, 2018. Anyone related to or employed by a past or present Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) Board of Directors, Professional Advisory Board member, or ADDA employee is ineligible.

Dottie R. Walker Scholarship

Colorado residents are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. The ideal candidate for this scholarship is a student who has faced the challenges of having ADHD and/or a learning disability, understands that self-advocacy and self-knowledge are powerful tools in overcoming those challenges, and is willing to serve as a role model for other students with learning disabilities. Applicants must maintain a 2.8 GPA and submit two letters of recommendation (one from a teacher or counselor who is aware of the student’s disability; a third letter is optional), official high school transcript, and proof of specific learning disability. The deadline to apply is March 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a wide variety of developmental disorders, hence the term “spectrum.” Various disorders on the spectrum often result in difficulty communicating or interacting with others. Restrictive or repetitive behaviors, such as having overly focused interests or repeating certain, perhaps unusual, behaviors, may lead to problems in work and school. Many of the learning disability scholarships previously listed also include ASD in their eligibility criteria.

Autism Society of Iowa College Scholarship Program Application

Iowans with ASD qualify for $500 autism scholarships, which can be used for both college and vocational schools. Applicants must submit a cover page, documentation of status as an individual with ASD, two letters of reference, and a personal statement of no more than 500 words. Individuals not on the spectrum, but who are interested in working in fields related to people with ASD, can also apply for two other scholarships offered by the Autism Society of Iowa. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2018.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network Autistic Scholars Fellowship Program

This one-time, $5,000 tuition scholarship is designed to help autistic students enact change on their college campuses by participating in leadership roles. A dedication to improving the state of disability rights as well as publicly serving as a face for autistic culture are a must. Applications are due in late October, and students are notified by the following January if they have won.

P. Buckley Moss Endowed Scholarship

Students with an interest in the visual arts are eligible for $1,500 or more annually from this scholarship. Applicants must have a certified diagnosis of a language-related disability and be able to prove talent in the visual arts. Documentation of financial needs is also required. The deadline for application is March 31, 2018.

Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin Scholarships

The fund offers two autism scholarships of $500 each to students residing in Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, or Sauk Counties in Wisconsin. The Jacob Trotter Memorial Scholarship is geared toward students on the spectrum attending college or vocational schools, and the Kadane Foundation Scholarship is for those who wish to enter occupations meant to serve people on the spectrum. Applicants must be members of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin. The deadline to apply is June 2018.

NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

Eight scholarships of $5,625 each are available through this fund. Applicants must have a certified diagnosis and publicly identify as a person with a disability, including but not limited to being on the autism spectrum. Students must be interested in pursuing a career in the communications, media, or entertainment industry. Non-United States citizens are welcome to apply, but they must be enrolled in an American college or university. The fund honors former U. S. Rep. Tony Coelho (California), the primary author of the ADA. Contact scholarship@aapd.com for the 2018 application deadline.

Scholarships for Disabled Veterans

A special selection of disability scholarships are open to the men and women with disabilities who have served in the United States military. These may include mental, physical, or a combination of disabilities that may or may not directly relate to the individual’s service.

Feldman Law Firm Disabled Veterans Scholarship

Two veterans a year are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. The funds can be used for universities, community colleges, and trade schools. Upon submission of an invoice, Feldman Law Firm will provide payment to the institution of the student’s choice. The applicant must have a United States military disability ranking of 30% or higher, and may be asked to provide proof. The application deadline is in November 2017.

Colorado Technical University Wounded Warrior Scholarship

Colorado Technical University annually awards these scholarships for disabled veterans covering full tuition to fifty eligible wounded service members, their spouses, non-medical attendants or caregivers and their dependants. To be eligible the applicant must be a currently-serving member of the armed forces or veteran with a 30% or higher disability rating, or fall into the related categories above. Scholarship recipients have the option to pursue their degree either as an online student or at any of the CTU campuses. The deadline to apply is July 31, 2017.

AMVET National Scholarship Program

Though not specifically benefitting disabled veterans, the AMVET scholarship is designed for veterans who might have exhausted their government aid or have other financial difficulties pursuing their secondary education. Considering the cost that living with a disability can have, disabled veterans are particularly likely to fulfill the criteria for this $1,000 annual award. Applicants must be an honorably discharged veteran who can prove financial need, provide transcripts and tax records, and write a short essay on the meaning of higher education. The annual deadline to apply is April 15.

Military Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship

The Purple Heart is a military honor awarded to soldiers who have been killed or wounded in battle. As many wartime injuries lead to disability status, disabled veterans are often eligible for this scholarship. Applicants can be Purple Heart recipients or the spouse, child, or grandchild of a recipient. There are 80 scholarships of various amounts given out annually. Students must be a graduating senior or enrolled full-time at an accredited institution while maintaining a 2.75 GPA. The deadline to apply is January 2018.

Michigan State Univeristy Disabled Veteran's Assistance Program

Students at Michigan State University who are disabled veterans may be eligible for a full-ride scholarship when obtaining an undergraduate degree. Documentation of disabled veteran status is required, and funds from the program can be used for both tuition and materials. The work requirement may be waived if the disability prevents the student from working. Room and board are also included. For more information on the program, including application deadlines and necessary documents required, visit the link above.

Scholarships for Students with Disabled Parents

Living with disabilities is not just a challenge for the disabled. Often, family members also struggle financially. These disability scholarships are aimed at helping the children of people with disabilities to pursue their education.

University of Texas Dallas Children of Disabled or Deceased Firemen, Peace Officers, Game Wardens, and Employees of Correctional Institutions Scholarship Program

All tuitions and fees for the first 120 semester hours at UT Dallas may be waived for children of a parent who suffered an injury, resulting in disability or death, sustained in the line of duty as a paid or volunteer firefighter, paid municipal, county, or state peace officer, a custodial employee of the Texas Department of Corrections, or a game warden. Students must also maintain a 2.0 GPA. A doctor’s statement regarding the parent’s disability is also required.

American Traffic Safety Services Association Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship Program

These scholarships for students with disabled parents can be a high as $5,000, and benefit the children of roadway workers who were killed or permanently disabled on the job. Applicants that can demonstrate a dedication to public service may be eligible for an additional $1,000. The application deadline is February 15, 2018.

National Law Enforcement and Firefighters Children’s Foundation Scholarship

A maximum award of $5,000 per year is available to the children of a parent permanently disabled while serving in law enforcement or as a firefighter. Applicants must demonstrate leadership, excellence in sports or academics, and maintain a 2.7 GPA. The disability of the parent must prevent them from working. Full-time students pursuing their first degree are the only ones eligible to apply. The deadline for submission of all applications and documents is July 1, 2018.

Kid’s Chance of Virginia Scholarship

This variable scholarship is dedicated to helping fund the post-secondary educations of children whose parents have been severely injured or disabled in workplace accidents. Virginia residents between the ages of 16 and 25 are eligible. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018.

SFM Foundation Scholarship

Children of parents injured or killed in a workplace accident involving a Minnesota-, Wisconsin-, or Iowa-based employer are eligible for awards up to $10,000. Students are required to demonstrate proof of financial hardship as well as maintain a cumulative “C” average. Academic achievement, aptitude, extracurricular activities, and community service of the applicant are considered in choosing awardees. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2018.

Other Types of Financial Aid and Support for Students with Disabilities

Disability scholarships are a wonderful way for communities to give a leg up to people with disabilities while they pursue higher education, but there are only so many available. Not to worry: there are many different programs outside of the scholarship system designed to help people with disabilities pay for college. Here are a few of them.

Grants and Fellowships

Typically, but not exclusively, the difference between grants and scholarships is that scholarships are usually merit-based while grants are usually need-based. Both have the advantage of not having to be repaid (except under a few special circumstances) as student loans are. This can secure a student’s education without weighing them down with debt following graduation.

When people think of grants, the first one to come to mind is the federal Pell Grant. These government-based subsidies are the largest source of need-based financial aid. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree who are not currently incarcerated can apply yearly for a variable subsidy based on their financial need for up to 12 semesters. The children of some parents who died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 may be eligible for additional grants.

Another resource for people with disabilities is the Federal TRIO Programs. This collection of government educational outreach initiatives is designed to guide students from difficult circumstances throughout their education, including into the college years. Grants from TRIO can be used separately or in conjunction with Pell Grants. Many colleges maintain their own grant programs to help students, and you should check with your school’s financial aid office to see if you qualify.

Fellowships are quite similar to grants, but they often include a work requirement, internship, or other expected area of service. Students may receive a stipend for living expenses in addition to aid with tuition and materials. There are a wide variety of fellowships available for the disabled, usually aimed at guiding people with disabilities into fields that benefit the disabled population, or seeking to increase representation in fields with small, marginalized populations. As people with disabilities, even those with degrees, can have trouble with workplace accessibility or job discrimination, these opportunities can facilitate the transition from education into the job market.

Work Study

The Federal Work Study program is designed to help students defray costs or seek reimbursement for their education expenses through employment with their school or through community service opportunities. The occupations must be at the federal minimum wage level, and opportunities are awarded according to need for financial aid.

Many of the community service positions that qualify with the FWS program directly involve the disabled community. These range from improving facilities for accessibility to tutoring or caregiving services. In addition to helping students with disabilities with financial need to fund their schooling, these positions can help connect students with disabilities to organizations dedicated to or sympathetic to their needs. As FWS, when possible, is supposed to be germane to a student’s field of study, the overall benefits for the working student can be many.

Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge

Some people with disabilities may find themselves relieved of the burden of paying back federal student loans. Displaying total and permanent disability allows students to apply for a TPD discharge. This releases a student from obligations to loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program, loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, and loans made under the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program. It can also be used to waive the service requirement that is part of a TEACH Grant.

Demonstration of disability can be done in a variety of ways. Veterans can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which prove 100% disability. Civilians receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits also qualify. Those who are not can provide statements from doctors showing 60 months of continuous disability, or an expectation that the disability in question will continue for another 60 months or result in death.

Social Security Disability Benefits

There are two social security benefit programs that are open to the disabled, and which may make qualifying for other disability programs or funding an education easier. These are the Social Security Disability (SSD, or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The qualifications for being considered disabled by either program are largely identical, but they serve different populations. SSD is paid for by payroll taxes, and the benefits are tied to an applicant’s work history. SSI is entirely income-based, with no period of work required to be eligible. Those enrolled in SSI are usually also eligible for Medicaid and supplemental nutrition programs, but these vary from state to state.

Students receiving social security disability benefits have several advantages. As mentioned before, it may make you eligible for forgiveness on federal student loans. In addition, money spent on education or that comes in the form of grants and scholarships is not counted when benefits are calculated. That means that the bequests a student may be receiving to pay for school will not penalize them with a reduction in benefits.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Every state in the country operates vocational rehabilitation services (VRS) designed to help people with disabilities achieve everything they want to as far as education and employment are concerned. These services are state-funded, and there generally is no cost to apply. Some states may require proof of financial need before paying for services on the applicant’s behalf, and those with more resources may find themselves ineligible for free services, but the assessment of whether someone qualifies is usually free. Students applying for VRS will most likely be expected to also apply for financial aid.

VRS offer a variety of resources to students. Those with mobility issues can seek rides, there are referrals to doctors and counselors necessary for the various qualifying diagnoses many programs require, and coaches are available for guidance, as are teachers for specialized information like reading Braille, access to assistive technologies, and more.

Students can also expect guidance on formulating an individual plan for employment (IPE). This is a rough roadmap of where a student wants to go in life as an employee, but tailored to the unique circumstances of the student’s disability. Because VRS work so closely with public institutions, they can offer connections for students with disabilities that the students might otherwise not be aware of.

A list of VRS can be found in the blue government section of the phone directory, or at your local library.

Applying for Scholarships

Applying for disability scholarships can be as hard as preparing for a big job interview, and sometimes it’s even harder. You should go into the process well-prepared if you want to keep from getting overwhelmed.

The most important thing is to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. Your FASFA will help initially determine what financial aid you qualify for, and in for people with disabilities utilizing many of the specific programs aimed at them, a promptly filed FASFA is a requirement to participate in those programs. The application opens on October 1 each year, and should be completed promptly. Students can apply by mail, phone, or online.

For scholarships, it is a good idea to keep some basic information organized and up-to-date. Most scholarships require a few staple pieces of information including school transcripts, proof of enrollment, letters of recommendation, list of awards or community service, most current GPA, most current taxes, and basic financial information proving need for assistance. People with disabilities will also generally need proof of disabled status from a medical practitioner if not already assigned that status by the Social Security Administration or the Veteran’s Administration.

People with disabilities need to keep a few more specific tips in mind. You should not necessarily put your disability first. There are plenty of programs and awards that are not related to specific disabilities that you may be qualified to receive based on all kinds of other criteria. Exhaust every possible scholarship, grant, fellowship, loan, and fee waiver you can find, even if it has nothing to do with your disability.

On the other hand, make as solid and comprehensive a plan as you can for how you will attend school with your disability. Many disability scholarships have requirements involving hours per semester, GPAs, or outside work requirements. These may or may not be feasible with your disability, and it is better to plan ahead than to become reliant on funds you cannot maintain the requirements to receive.

An essay is a typical part of scholarship applications, but may be a hindrance for certain disabilities. Consider contacting the scholarship providers and asking if there is an alternative method for you to express yourself available. It can’t hurt, and they may admire your attempt to problem solve outside the box.

National Associations and Organizations for Students with Disabilities

One of the greatest assets open to students of all types are organizations. These groups offers specialization in their support, and often know the best way to deliver what individuals need. Below are some of the organizations helping students with disabilities.

American Council for the Blind
This group provides a comprehensive list of disability scholarships for the visually impaired, as well as leads on housing, assistive technology, and guide dogs.

Broad Futures
Broad Futures is dedicated to helping young people with learning disabilities gain real-world experience through employment and internships. They are great for the transition between high school and college life, especially if the student wants to create or maintain a work history while in school.

Cerebral Palsy Group
The student resource section of the Cerebral Palsy Group can offer guidance on everything from dorm life to wheelchair accessibility to extracurricular activity participation.

Dedicated to removing the social stigma of being a person with a disability, Incight offers scholarships and hosts student events on campuses.

Little People of America
This group is for people of short stature or who are affected by dwarfism. They offer various grants and scholarships, in addition to a thriving support community.

National Alliance on Mental Health
Their guide for attending college with mental illness is a must-read. NAMI may offer an in-person campus group as well, depending on your school.

National Down Syndrome Society
This website has a fantastic series of webinars aimed at helping people with Down syndrome explore post-secondary education, with an even more comprehensive resource list.

National Association of Law Students With Disabilities
This group is focused on mentorships and guidance of people with disabilities through a legal degree. They also publish a regular newsletter.

Student Veterans of America
Though not a group specifically for people with disabilities, they often partner with organizations and projects that can be of benefit to disabled veterans who are students.

College Diabetes Network
This is the most comprehensive guide to managing diabetes while a student you will find.

Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society
This group hosts chapters in schools all across the United States, and combines the fraternity system with celebrating self-advocacy for the disabled in college.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Students on the spectrum will find a support group to help them control their lives and self advocate in these chapter organizations.

WV Annual Disability History Essay Contest

The Disability History Contest Committee is proud to announce the 2017 Disability History Essay Contest in West Virginia! This contest is designed to provide you with an opportunity to showcase your writing skills, share what you have learned about the Disability Rights Movement, use your ability to form and express opinions, and perhaps to earn some money to help you into your future! All high school seniors are invited to submit an entry. Contest rules are located on the bottom of the entry form.

All entries must include the completed entry form and must comply with all contest rules. While federal law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities we still face barriers every day. Check your community - search, watch, listen - for barriers such as: physical barriers (no ramps, no curb cuts), communication barriers (no Braille signage, no sign language interpreter), and attitudinal barriers (avoiding, not looking in the eyes of, or not talking directly to people with disabilities). Interview people with disabilities (including hidden disabilities like learning disabilities, depression, anxiety, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.) about the improvements made and the barriers that still exist. The essay topic this year is:

"How technology has removed barriers and improved the lives of people with disabilities."

The top award will be presented to the state winner, and awards may be presented to first-place and second-place entries from six Districts of our state. The awards are as follows:


Number of Available Prizes

Prize Amounts

State Winner
District 1st Place
District 2nd Place

One Grand Prize
Six District Prizes
Six District Prizes


All entries must be postmarked, faxed, or emailed by October 31, 2017 and be submitted to:

WV Statewide Independent Living Council
PO Box 625
Institute, WV 25112-0625
ATTN: Essay Contest

E-mail: kathi.young@wvsilc.org
Fax: 304-766-4721

Download the Essay Contest Flyer, Transmittal Letter and Entry form below:
2017 Disability Essay Contest Flyer
2017 Disability Essay Contest Transmittal Letter
2017 Disability Essay Contest Entry Form

Each Fall since 2012, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the State Rehabilitation Council has held the Disability History Essay Contest to celebrate Disability History Week in West Virginia. This contest gives WV High School Seniors an opportunity to showcase their writing skills, share their knowledge of the Disability Rights Movement and perhaps earn some money to help advance their future!

The contest is supported by a generous grant from the WV Division of Rehabilitation Services which allows us to award cash prizes to the winners. The winning essays and their authors are recognized and presented with a check each year at the Senior Awards Ceremony at their respective high schools.

This contest is a collaborative effort of the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the State Rehabilitation Council, with cooperation from the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts.

The winners and their essays are published each year in our Special Edition Newsletter.

2016 Disability Essay Contest
2015 Disability Essay Contest
2014 Disability Essay Contest
2013 Disability Essay Contest
2012 Disability Essay Contest

2016 Disability Essay Contest

The 2016 State Winner of $3000 is Lindsey Grace Beane, a graduate of Hurricane High School, is active in her school and community through many clubs, organizations, pageantry and dance. She is an active participant of the National Honor Society, DECA club, Key club and founding member of the Students Against Destructive Decision Club (SADD). When not studying, she enjoys spending her time promoting her platform; Defy Disability: Put People First, which has been a passion of hers. She has provided education both in state and out of state through pageantry through the years. She is the current reigning America’s National Teenager which has allowed her to travel across the nation to spread awareness about. She will be attending West Virginia University pursuing a degree in nursing.

Lindsey's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2017 Special Edition Newsletter.

"The barriers for people with disabilities in my community and how I can make a difference."

Have you ever stopped and thought about what it would be like to not be able to walk? What would it be like to struggle to speak to others in everyday life or perform simple tasks? How would you feel if your family member struggled with a disability and your only wish was for other people to see them as you do - a happy, loving soul who is just like you and me?

I have a close friend named Anthony. As we spent time together, I would see others treat him differently. From subtle stares to blatant ridicule, I could see they saw him for his disability. They judged from a place of unknowing and fear, as their words and behavior revealed their hurtful thoughts. I wanted people to see Anthony like I see Anthony. He is my friend who still loves to watch Sponge Bob with me, because you are never really too old for Sponge Bob. Anthony always keeps a smile on your face with his humor and wit. You never know what he is going to say next, but Anthony always knows what to say. I saw the effect it had on him when people would stare because his walk is different or would make fun of him because he sometimes likes to rock back and forth. As much as it upset me to watch that happen to my friend, I know it hurt him more. I wanted to do something that would make a difference, not only for Anthony, but others in my community who have a disability. Anthony and my other friends who have been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability do not deserve to hear the words "crazy" and "psycho" in the hallways of my school. How could I make a difference in my community? I started my research around disability rights issues and found my passion. I could advocate for Anthony and others by encouraging my peers to treat everyone with respect.

Words are powerful; they can hurt and they often do. The language a society uses shapes their ideas and beliefs, so I learned the concept of "People First Language." People First Language is a method of communication that shows we see the person before their disability. For example, you would never use hurtful words such as "sped" or "crippled" and you would not say things like "that autistic boy." Instead you call the person by their name. You do not use the disability to describe the person. People First Language is the first step toward eliminating hurtful stereotypes and the devaluing of a person with a disability. Robert M. Hensel, disability advocate and Guinness World Record holder for the longest wheelchair wheelie, said, "There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see a person as more." This is why I believe the best way for me to knock down the barriers in my community is to fight the stigma of disability and to make sure we value everyone as individuals with gifts unique to each of us.

People with disabilities face stereotypes, prejudices, and injustices each and every day. For the past two years, I participated in Disability Awareness Day at the West Virginia State Legislature with a focus on promoting the use of People First Language. I was overjoyed when the West Virginia Legislature passed House Bill 2797 one of the items I advocated for on Disability Awareness Day. This bill changed all West Virginia law by removing the term "retarded" from state code. When the bill was signed into law on March 25, 2015, I knew I had made at least a small difference by educating my fellow West Virginians and spreading the importance of People First Language. When I returned as a student advocate for the 2016 Disability Awareness Day, I set my table up just outside the Senate chambers to access as many lawmakers as possible. I focused on advocating for adding a requirement to state code that People First Language be taught in West Virginia schools as a part of Disability Awareness Week. I was able to provide lawmakers and everyone I spoke to with an awareness wristband that promotes People First Language with the slogan, "Defy Disability: Put People First."

I believe it is crucially important to educate both my peers and elementary age children about the importance of People First Language. The greatest strides for change often occur when children learn belief systems that respect and include everyone. I have had the opportunity to go into elementary and middle school classrooms to teach students about People First Language and the importance of putting the person before the disability. I was fortunate to request and receive interactive brochures from the Developmental Disabilities Council that promote the use of People First Language to hand out in my community. When those were depleted, I developed my own interactive presentation about the use of People First Language that definitely kept the interest of the classroom. As I left, I always gave every student one of the, "Defy Disability: Put People First," awareness wristbands. I have discovered that these wristbands are very effective in not only promoting people first language, but also provide the opportunity for continued education about People First Language. I have distributed over 1000 wristbands while promoting the use of People First Language and know that they have led to conversations with those who see them.

My wish is for our culture to progress with the understanding that people have exceptionalities, not disabilities. As I go to college next year, I want to continue learning about the struggles that people living with disabilities face so that I can continue to advocate for kids like Anthony. Everyone has gifts to offer, and we have to look past the labels set by society and promote everyone's abilities, putting people first.

2015 Disability Essay Contest

The 2015 State Winner of $3000 is Blake Huffman, a senior at Winfield High School where he currently has a 3.9 GPA. During his high school years, he has been involved with the General Admission Show Choir, the Marching Generals, the Boys Soccer team, Fuel Bible Club, FCA, National Honor Society, Link Crew, and the Spanish Honorary Society. He is an active member of youth group at Teays Valley Baptist Church and works with the Highways & Hedges Bus Ministry and sings in both the adult and youth choirs. Blake is also an Eagle Scout and was selected as a delegate for Mountaineer Boys State. Blake has logged over 300 community service hours since beginning high school. Blake was diagnosed with Dyslexia his junior year and has worked with the Teays Valley office of WV Division of Rehabilitation. He is extremely excited to be chosen as the 2015 Disability History Essay Contest winner and is very thankful for the opportunity to apply and the funds made available for college.

Blake's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2016 Special Edition Newsletter.

"How Have the First 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act Changed America?"

Imagine standing atop the stairs and overlooking the grounds of the US Capitol Building on a cool March day. The year is 1990, and 1,000 protestors have made their way to Washington to demand that the House of Representative pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Imagine watching as more than 60 activists laid down their wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches and began the ascent to the top of the 83 marble steps. The passing of this legislation would require equal rights for the disabled. The Capitol Crawl, as it is now known, is now seen as one of the most important events leading up to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act passed into law on July 26, 1990. Now imagine walking down the streets of small town America earlier that same year. How different things would things have looked then as compared to the world today. Let's look at the changes in the world today due to The Americans with Disabilities Act. The Act was broken into 5 different titles with each title having a unique effect on the lives of the disabled. Let's look into each of those titles separately.

Title I - Employment
Prior to the ADA many employers would find ways to discriminate against those with disabilities. Accommodations in the workplace were not commonplace. This section of the law brought above positive changes.. Special equipment, scheduling alternatives, and a change in work assignments helped allow those with disabilities to enter the workforce. Special communication devices including blinking fire alarms and braille markings were incorporated into structures to alert deaf and blind employees of an emergency. Entrances and bathrooms were also equipped with wheelchair access. The workplace is a different place.

Title II - Public Entities
With the ADA, every school district, city, county and state had to make all of their services available to the disabled. Whether special testing opportunities in schools for those with reading or developmental deficiencies, equipping school and public buses with wheelchair ramps, making public housing available to everyone, or modifying their streets and sidewalks, the ADA has made significant changes in the world of the disabled. Today, crosswalks are equipped with not only blinking lights, but beeping traffic indicators and voice street directions. Changes have also come to city and state parks. Trails and special parking access has been added to allow those with disabilities to enjoy the outdoors as never before. Our communities are a different place.

Title III - Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
The ADA has required that all new construction and renovations make commercial buildings handicap accessible. Special parking, ramps, automatic doors, wider entry ways, braille and audio instructions in elevators, and handicap accessible bathrooms were all enhancements to buildings made due to the provisions of the act. Today, you can walk into most restaurants and request a menu in braille and be able to maneuver a wheelchair without assistance into most commercial establishments. The difference continues.

Title IV - Telecommunications
Prior to the ADA, those who were blind, deaf or dumb had major challenges with communication. Today services like text telephone (TTY/TDD) have opened up the world to the hearing impaired. The hard of hearing or speech impaired can use these services to communicate by typing messages which are then relayed and received back in a way they can understand. Closed captioned TV has allowed those with hearing disabilities to keep up with current events or watch their favorite shows without lip reading. Computer generated relay services also allow communication through the internet and even your smart phone will allow hands-free communication through both visual and audio means. Communication is different, much different.

Title V
The final provision of the ADA provided protection from retaliation or coercion. Those exercising their rights under the American Disabilities Act could now do so without the fear of negative backlash. This is a difference, especially to those who have faced retaliation in the past.

Let's now go back to that street in small town America. Twenty five have passed since that July day in 1990. A walk down the street does look and sound different today. The beeping cross walk, the braille menu at Wendy's, a time extension to take standardized testing, or being able to gaze over the New River Gorge at Hawk's Nest, all of these are different as a result of this life changing act. The ADA has made a huge difference in the world and especially in the lives of the disabled. One has to wonder if those brave souls that climbed the Capitol steps that day had any glimpse into the changes seen in the world today. But, the job is not done. The changes are not over and improvements are happening daily. The disabled still face challenges in the world they navigate daily, but the ADA has had and will continue to have a dramatic effect on the lives of the disabled.

2014 Disability Essay Contest

The 2014 State Winner of $2000 is Mason Ryck, a 2015 graduate of Robert C. Byrd High School. Born July 17, 1997 in Augusta, GA, he is the youngest of two siblings, Travis (23), whom resides in Texas and Taylor (20) of Arizona. Mason loves to play lacrosse, picking up the game from his Native American heritage, the Iroquois Mohawks in Canada. He also enjoys boxing and MMA. Mason plans to attend college in Arizona and will be working with his father in industrial construction this summer after graduation.

Mason's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2015 Special Edition Newsletter.

"Disability Rights Movement"

When I first heard about the 2014 disability history essay contest, I must admit that I had no interest or intent of submitting an entry. Fortunately, my grandfather saw the entry form on our dining room table and encouraged me to enter. He didn't share or elaborate his reasons on why I should enter, except to state the Disability Acts were some of the most important pieces of legislation ever enacted in United States history. Intrigued by his comment, I began to conduct my own research on the topic.

What I found was mind boggling and a real eye opener for a seventeen year old who had no understanding of what people with disabilities had overcome. For centuries, people with disabilities were labeled as helpless, deformed, abnormal, and non-productive. They were viewed as a burden on society which were better served in an asylum, institution, or a circus for entertainment. The disabled were ridiculed based on their physical or mental features rather than their potential value and benefit to society. The Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia was constructed and opened in 1864 to house such physical and mental afflictions.

It wasn't until the early 1900's that the disability movement began its fight for equal rights and protection for people with disabilities. The catalyst for the movement began shortly after World War I when disabled veterans were provided rehabilitation for their military service to this nation. However, the public mainstream continued to view the disabled as abnormal with the primary focus being on a medical fix or permanent cure. This public perception continued even though Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the first American president to have a disability, recognized the need for more rehabilitative care for all the disabled.

Following World War II, veterans once again became vocal about their physical and mental disabilities incurred as a result of war. Veterans were now demanding more employment opportunities so they could re-enter back into society as productive American citizens. This outcry resulted in disabled veterans being entitled to both rehabilitative care and vocational training. However, these veteran benefits did little to address the public access and transportation issues confronting the disabled. In addition, the veteran programs weren't available to the general public thus leaving millions without rights, care, or opportunities.

In the early 1960's the disability movement aligned itself with the Civil Rights movement, demanding equal rights and treatment of all people regardless of race, gender, or disability. During this period, the disability movement was primarily spearheaded by the parents of disabled children. They demanded their children be provided the same educational opportunities as other children, without having to be institutionalized. Legislation was eventually enacted in the mid 1960's protecting the civil rights of people regardless of race and gender; however, it wasn't until the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that the civil rights of people with disabilities were protected. For the first time in US history, people with disabilities were now protected by law for equal employment opportunities. This milestone legislation eventually led to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, entitling disabled children equal access to the same public education as other children. In 1996, the act was renamed the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). In addition to a name change, the new law provided that the parents of disabled children be involved in any educational decisions affecting their children. To facilitate decision making, educators and parents were to complete an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for each disabled child.

Although significant progress had been made in providing and protecting the rights of the disabled in government agencies and public schools, it wasn't until the passage of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 that required all businesses to provide the disabled with equal employment opportunities, equal access rights, and reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation mandated that all businesses would support the disabled through job restructuring, work site modifications, and specially adaptive equipment and technology. Failure to meet these requirements could result in a discrimination complaint on the basis of disability.

Today more than 50 million individuals have benefitted from the disability movement and legislative acts of the 20th century. Disabled people from all walks of life are now fulfilling there lifelong dreams with protection from discrimination or concerns of being institutionalized. They are not only successful in life but have made significant contributions to society as artists, athletes, educators, actors, politicians, public servants, and in numerous other professions and occupations. Some famous people with disabilities who have made a positive impact on society include Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeve, Peyton Manning, and Helen Keller.

Equally important are the numerous advancements that have been made in medicine, science, and research as the result of the disability movement. Today, there are state of the art prosthetic devices that allow amputees to accomplish physical movements and activities that were once impossible to achieve. Advances in technology now allow those with spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and hearing and visual impairments to perform activities of daily living that many of us take for granted. Housing alterations and adaptive equipment are allowing the disabled to drive automobiles and live independently without assistance from family members, health workers, or local agencies.

I can personally attest to the positive impact the disability movement has had on my own family. A number of my family members have recognized disabilities that in the past would have resulted in institutional care and lack of opportunities. Those disabilities include military injuries, mental illness, visual and hearing impairments, speech impediments, and cleft palate malnormalities. Although I have never viewed these loved ones as disabled, less than fifty years ago society would have labeled and stigmatized them preventing these family members from equal employment opportunities. I now understand and appreciate my grandfather's comment that the disability acts were some of the most important pieces of legislation to ever be passed in US history.

2013 Disability Essay Contest

The 2013 State Winner of $2000 is Alexandra Nicole Rundle from East Fairmont High School. She attends WVU studying Pre-Forensics and is holding a 3.0 GPA. She continues to volunteer in her community on several venues. Alexandra is a part time student worker at WVU in the Career services office where she assists students with a variety of needs including referrals to the disability services office.

Alexandra's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2014 Special Edition Newsletter.

“How the disability rights movement has shaped our world”

Being an individual with a significant disability at an early age, my first computation was that only the small percentage of people with a disability had any knowledge or even cared about the disability movement. A movement that has shaped our society and opened many doors to promote access to services and supports in our great country for all individuals with disabilities. I spend many of weeks in the children’s hospital receiving treatments for my illness.

At the age of two my ordeal began. Yes it is true that during this period, l could not grasp much of what was going on around me or how it affected my entire family. I could recall my brother, mother, father, grandparents and relatives gathered around me trying to comfort my every minute. As l got older, I learned more and more about advocacy skills, disability rights and the disability movement that had begun many years ago. A movement that surely made my young life easier related to accessing health care and my educational needs. I also learned that over time more and more individuals have made a positive commitment to change.

It has now been over 20 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Through the determination and drive of families and individuals with a passion for equality and independence, more and more people have learned about the challenges and tributes of those that have fought the fight and I continue to learn and live independently.

At the time, l could not imagine a grown man, a man that just wanted to go to college like anybody else, fighting so hard for what he wanted. This man, Ed Roberts also had a dream. He had to leave his sole means of independence at the time, his wheelchair to be carried thru the doors of a college that he so desperately wanted to attend. Also facing other barriers, he agreed to live in a segregated section of the campus due the use of his iron lung and became the first quadriplegic to go to college even earning his Masters Degree. His legacy made it possible for others to achieve their dreams. There was no accessible entrance at the time and barriers still existed; but for him and many others a larger door was opened. For many at the time, there was no equal respect, no access to services for whom many were called “handicapped”, but time will change and change it did.

l attribute most of my knowledge to my Father. He has spent most of his life and career helping others. He has worked as an Advocate in many systems of care. l recall him being away from home all the time. As time went on I understood why. He was attempting to teach others how to advocate for what they wanted , including myself, in an effort to make life a little better and a lot more independent for some. He taught me the same, so here I stand today expressing my feelings.

So, what is my continued impression of how the disability movement has shaped the world? I truly believe it started out with just a few that had big dreams, wishes, desires and that were tired of hearing “NO”. Many individuals worked to build a foundation for others that also cared about the mission. The disability rights movement began in the 1960’s encouraged by African Americans seeking equal civil rights and treatment as well as assistance from woman and the Women’s Rights Movement. At this time, many individuals with different disabilities such as mental, physical, cognitive, visual and hearing impairments came together to fight for their cause. Much like the African American generation faced back in the 1960’s when they decided to be silent no more.

The movement indicated that people with disabilities are indeed the experts of their needs. In 1968 the first federal disability rights legislation passed. The Architectural Barrier Act provided that all federally constructed buildings and facilities were accessible for individuals with physical disabilities. Another groundbreaking piece of legislation passed in 1973, the Rehabilitation Act. This was the first civil rights law requiring equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Primary this law prohibited any entity receiving federal funds to discriminate on the basis of disability. Other important laws during this time frame had a significant and positive impact on allowing individuals to gain employment, education and access to public buildings and services. The passing of the Education for Handicapped Children’s Act helped provide access to education for children with disabilities. Before the passing of these initial laws, many people with disabilities were treated as sub-human. Individuals felt incompetent and pitied. In my opinion, the entire fight to this day was to gain independence through accommodations. Just to have an avenue to live, work, play, etc, just like anyone else.

During this era of time, the largest federal or national protest (sit-in) related to the disability movement took place and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was enacted. This demonstrated how grass roots advocacy can be effective. Section 504 expanded significantly the laws regarding discrimination based on disability. An important individual whom put massive time and effort into the movement was Edward Roberts.

In 1990, a dramatic event occurred following many years of civil rights advocacy. Although the advocacy efforts and the actions of thousands ultimately resulted in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many called Justin Dart “the father of the ADA” and “the godfather of the disability rights movement” Justin Dart often stated that ”the ADA was the civil rights act of the future”. Indeed it was. I would encourage anyone reading this essay to take a few minutes and educated you about the foundation of these movements. The ADA enhanced the independence of all Americans with a disability. The law was comprehensive and addressed many needs including access to education, employment, public services and accessible entrances and parking.

The disability movement has made a major impact in my life and many Americans that have a disability. It has paved the way for future generations to excel with independence, provide accommodation instead of pity. To continue the growth of the movement, many fought as hard of a battle as those who fought our wars, thus leading to growth and freedom of our country.

Without the disability right movement thousands of individuals including myself would not have had the opportunity to live the lives we have today. The movement brought a sense of importance and respect, as well as independence and purpose to our lives. The movement has transformed our lives and our society. It is our time, my time to ensure the purpose continues.

2012 Disability Essay Contest

The 2012 State Winner of $2000 is Heidi Dennison from Nicholas County High School.

Heidi's essay is below. You can read the other winning essays in our 2013 Special Edition Newsletter.

“The significance of the disability rights movement in today’s world”

If one flips through the pages of any American History book, one would find chapters dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s for the African Americans.The stories of how African Americans suffered for their rights are almost common knowledge because leaders like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are historic heroes. However, this is not so for the disability rights movement. One would find few pages dedicated to this movement. Names like Ed Roberts and Judy Heumarm are not so common, but these two individuals played just as important of a role in changing history as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. The movement led by Mr. Roberts, Ms. Heumann, and others like them changed the course of American history. Thanks to the efforts of many citizens, acts have been passed by Congress that has changed the lives of people with disabilities significantly, including that of my Aunt Linda.

Before the Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973, people with disabilities lived rough lives. Often times, individuals with disabilities were not only viewed as incompetent or feeble- minded but as less than human. Very few accommodations were made to meet the needs of these people. For example, buildings did not have passable doorways or restrooms for those who used wheelchairs. Children with special needs did not receive the opportunity to get an education like other students. In fact, many were placed in institutions where they would stay away from those who were viewed as normal. Sadly, the common philosophy was to keep them out of sight and out of mind. There were a few prominent people who set out on the daunting task to change the ideals of citizens and of Congress. A man by the name of Ed Roberts, who had overcome serious obstacles of having polio and becoming a quadriplegic, was among one of the most influential people in the movement. He was among the first people with disabilities to attend college. “Roberts and fellow disability rights leaders would challenge widely held myths that people with disabilities were incapable of being educated, working, caring for themselves, or becoming contributing members of society”. Judy Heumann also made significant strides in fighting for rights of those with disabilities. Ms. Heumann formed a group called Disabled in Action which held protests to gain support against employment discrimination.

Change didn’t come quickly. A few acts were passed in Congress such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This act, gave particle rights to people with disabilities, but it was not the complete freedom so many wished for.

Almost twenty years later, in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into effect. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Americans with Disabilities Act was, “the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications” This act enhanced life for more than forty- nine million Americans

Since Americans Disability Act was signed, changes have been made to meet the needs of people with disabilities. For instance, many public buildings are mandated to have entrance ramps for those in wheelchairs. Also, handicap parking spaces are provided in front of almost all business. Employers with fifteen or more employees are not allowed to discriminate eligible applicants based on disability (Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago). There are numerous accommodations made for those with disabilities.

lf the disability rights movement had not begun, my Aunt Linda, who was born in 1966, with a genetic deficiency called phenylketonuria (PKU), would not have had the opportunity to reach her full potential. When she was born, doctors tried to convince my grandparents that it was in their best interest to place her in an institution, but being the strong-willed parents they were, they went against the doctors’ suggestions.

Aunt Linda was raised at home alongside her brothers. The PKU caused mild mental impairment which made learning a great challenge. Due to the strides made in the early l970s for rights of those with disabilities, she obtained a high school diploma. The ADA has also given her the freedom to obtain a job at a local therapy business, which gives her a since of purpose. Her story is just one of millions that have been changed thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Not only did the Americans with Disabilities Act provide protection under the law for those with disabilities, but it gave the individuals with disabilities sense of identity. Gone are the days that those with special needs are forced to live in institutions. No longer are they seen as less than human or feeble-minded. American History books may not discuss the details behind the disability rights movement, but this does not alter the significance it made in the lives of those who live with disabilities. Many advances were made by those like Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Heumann, who did not give up until the results they desired were accomplished. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many lives have been transformed including my Aunt Linda’s. Judy Heumann once said, “Disability only becomes a tragedy for us when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives” (Shapiro). Through the collaborate efforts of many Americans, the lives of those who have disabilities no longer is considered tragic but significant.

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