Module 2 – Historic and Legislative Trends of Assistive Technology (P.5 of 9)

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The Establishment Period 1900-1972

The Establishment Period is so named because this was the time period in which disability disciplines were established as specific entities. During this period, new policies, laws, and litigations represented significant gains for people with disabilities, their families and disability advocates. Significant advances were also made in the study of the prevention and ramifications of disabilities. In addition, people's views concerning disabilities and the capabilities of people with disabilities changed dramatically in a positive manner.

During this period, people with disabilities became a larger percentage of the American population. Advances in medicine allowed children to survive disease and birth difficulties at a higher rate then in the past. Along with these advances, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War created a new group of Americans with disabilities, young, wounded veterans, who needed help to re-enter a postwar society with these new challenges. These events spurred a focus on developing both technology that would help improve the functional capabilities of people with various disabilities and disability-related legislation for employment and education. These innovations and legislations worked together to help people use their functional abilities to reduce the effects of their disabilities and re-enter the workforce in record numbers. The large number of motivated people with disabilities caused an unprecedented boom in development of AT that continues today. The following are some important AT development and legislative events that occurred during the Empowerment Period. 

  • Early to Mid 1900’s - Many organizations were established that advocated and provided services to individuals with specific disabilities including:
    • Council for Exceptional Children
    • American Speech Language Hearing Association
    • American Association on Mental Retardation
    • Easter Seals
    • United Cerebral Palsy
  • 1918 - The Soldier Rehabilitation Act of 1918 (aka the Smith-Sears Veterans Rehabilitation provided services to soldiers with disabilities in the areas of vocational guidance, job placement and adjustment, training, and provided AT devices such as prosthesis.

  • 1920 - The Smith-Fess Vocational Rehabilitation Act extended the services of the Soldier Rehabilitation Act of 1918 to non-veterans with similar disabilities.
  • Late 1920's to Mid 1930's - Technology for people with visual impairments such as Braille embossers, guide dogs, and reading machines, often considered the core of  modern technology for these individuals, were all introduced.  

  • Mid 1930’s - The Coyne Voice Pitch Indicator was introduced. This device allowed for speech to appear in a visual form, and was the first step toward current voice recognition programs.

  • 1935 - The Social Security Act was introduced. This act provided grants to states for assisting individuals who were blind as well as children with various disabilities.

  • 1947 - The Hoover cane, and thus the "touch cane technique" for mobility, was introduced to assist veterans who had become blind during World War II. The battery operated hearing aid was also developed around this time for veterans who had lost their hearing during the war.

  • 1948 - Clarence O'Connor and Edmund Boatner organized Captioned Films for the Deaf (CFD), and America the Beautiful was the first film to utilize this technology.

  • 1951 - The Perkins Brailler (Braille typewriter) with keys corresponding to each of the six dots in the Braille code, which allowed people to type in Braille and is still in use today, was introduced.  

  • 1954 - The Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs Board of Education renouncing the "separate but equal" concept became an inspiration for the disability rights movement, which has allowed for the proliferation of AT device creation and use.

  • 1963 - South Carolina passed the first architectural access code, requiring buildings to be accessible to people with disabilities. This lead to the 1965 establishment of the National Commission on Architectural Barriers and eventually, the passage of the Architectural Barriers Act in 1986.

  • 1966 - The lasercane, which emitted a beam of light to detect objects in one's path and was less bulky than the Hoover cane, was introduced.

The Establishment Period was also a transition period. The beginning of the period was similar to the Foundation Period in that the majority of the activity was dedicated to developing products and policy for the deaf and blind. At this point in the period, inclusion was not a high priority. As the period progressed, this idea began to change. laying the ground work for the Establishment Period. The change began in the 1950's with the Brown vs Board of Education decision as well as the passing of the first architectural access code. The Establishment Period was important not only for helping to establish the AT field, but also for the role it played in transitioning from early attitudes toward disability to the more inclusive modern environment.


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