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Reform to Equal Rights - Disability History Curriculum

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Young students smile and sign the Star Spangled Banner, in front of 48-star United States flag.
Deaf students perform the Star Spangled Banner. c. 1918. J. R. Schmidt, photographer. Library of Congress.


Logo of Reform to Equal Rights curriculum.







Coming in February 2023!

The Reform to Equal Rights curriculum is being piloted by teachers across the U.S.

Sign up for a release notice and receive a draft lesson. And watch this space for updates on publication. 


What Will Be in the Curriculum? 

Reform to Equal Rights traces evolving efforts across more than two centuries to strengthen support for and engagement by people with disabilities in securing necessary resources for life and work, services, and political and civil rights. The curriculum emphasizes evidence-based student investigation of policy, cultural shifts, media, social change, and activism, always emphasizing the actions, experiences, and voices of people with disabilities. 

Hundreds of primary sources come from the Library of Congress, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, National Park Service, and other public collections. 

The curriculum features two dozen lessons in eight mini-units. Lessons can integrate into existing units such as Antebellum Reformers, the Civil War, the Progressive Era, Social Movements of the 1950s-1970s, or taught independently: 

  • Grades K-1: Disability and Community Leadership
  • Grades 2-3: Disability and Active Citizenship 
  • Grades 4-5: Disability, Immigration, and Citizenship
  • Grades 6-8 - Civics: Civic Engagement and Government
  • Grades 8-10 - U.S. History: Founding of Schools and Asylums
  • Grades 8-10 - U.S. History: Impacts of the Civil War on Soldiers and Society
  • Grades 9-12 - U.S. History: Institutions and Opportunities in the Progressive Era 
  • Grades 9-12 - U.S. History: The Long Struggle for Disability Rights 


Individual lessons feature stories from across the U.S., from the founding of state schools and asylums, through early 20th century struggles for autonomy and voice, to the transformative campaign for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

A second grant from Mass Humanities allowed Emerging America to research and create a unit for grades 8-10: Who Shall Have Borne the Battle: How the Civil War Transformed Disability. An online exhibit will share stories of disabled veterans, nurses, and institutions for classroom use. Thanks to project historian, Graham Warder for contributions to all of Reform to Equal Rights, and especially to this resource. 


Get the latest details! 

  • Sign up for the monthly History eNews at the bottom of the page. The eNews has a regular feature on Disability History Resources and Updates. 
  • Email Rich Cairn rcairn <@> to learn more or to schedule professional development for your network. 
  • Follow Emerging America on Facebook for more frequent updates. 
  • Sign up for an email notice of the release



Emerging America owes a profound debt to Laurie Block, Graham Warder, and other creators of the Disability History Museum. In collaboration since 2007, we have gained immeasurably from their experience and insights about Disability History. The fully online DHM offers extensive collections of primary sources and several grades 10-12 lessons and educational essays, emphasizing 19th century U.S. history. 


Logo of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program

Reform to Equal Rights is made possible through a Teaching with Primary Sources grant from the Library of Congress. 








Logo of Mass Humanities

This program is also made possible by a grant from Mass Humanities, state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided funding through the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC). 

Upcoming Workshops

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