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Kitty Cone: Advocate for Disability Rights

Kitty Cone is surrounded by reporters holding microphones. Cone uses a wheelchair, and she wears glasses. To the right of the photo, an interpreter translates Cone's comments into American Sign Language.

Photo of Kitty Cone and reporters. Courtesy of the Center for Independent Living.

In 1977, there was no major legislation enforced by the government to ensure Americans with disabilities had equal rights. Kitty Cone and her fellow disability rights activists helped change that.

Cone was one of the leading organizers of a sit-in where she and fellow activists occupied a federal building in San Francisco for more than 25 days. They demanded the government protect their rights by enforcing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 said no program receiving federal funds could discriminate against people with disabilities.

Cone said that these sit-ins became, "the public birth of the disability rights movement... For the first time, disability really was looked at as an issue of civil rights rather than an issue of charity and rehabilitation at best, pity at worst."

Cone is one of four women featured in our new miniseries about women who shaped American history. In this video, Ren, a student, speaks with Katherine Ott, curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, about why Cone's work matters. "This is something that they should teach you in schools and they don't," said Ren. "Putting your whole self on the line—I know what it's like to be without things that you need medically."

Learn more about Kitty Cone and what motivated her to protest for disability rights.

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