People with Disabilities are Experts
Full Participation
Cross-Disability Coalitions
Champions for your Cause
Defining Disability
Reasonable Accommodations
Checks and Balances
Specific Regulations
No Rights without Remedies
Common Cause Across Social Movements
Principle 10:

Common Cause Across Social Movements

Social movements are able to create critical mass and sustainability by developing inclusive goals with other social movements

WILD participants from around the world gather to march in the Women's Day parade.


Historically, successful and sustainable human rights movements are those in which significant segments of society recognize the need for change. Those who are most directly harmed by particular laws, government policies, and social/cultural practices come together to form a leading advocacy movement but then also implement outreach, education, and alliances with other sympathetic social movements. In the U.S., this strategy was used successfully by the Civil Rights Movement, led by African American people, and continues to be used by the Disability Rights Movement.

When aiming for improved legal protection, it is important for disability activists to reach out to leaders from other pre-existing social movements who can share expertise and advice on strategies for effective laws, regulations, and policy. Experts from other rights movements may also be able to identify existing anti-discrimination or human rights laws that can be used as leverage or models for combating discrimination against people with disabilities, even if disability-discrimination is not explicitly mentioned.

Leaders from allied movements may offer valuable practical support for disability movement actions--for example, by sharing lessons learned, making introductions, offering in-kind or material contributions, or mobilizing their constituents to show support for disability rights causes and activities. Allies from other movements with access to policy-makers may begin to raise disability rights issues and include disability rights leaders and advocates at influential meetings, as well as serve as a conduit of information regarding developments that may impact disability laws and policies.

It is equally important for disability rights proponents to recognize and support other movements, such as those advocating for the rights of women, ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ or indigenous persons. Investing in relationships with other movements recognizes the reality that many different personal characteristics co-exist within individuals, expands the network of disability rights allies, and encourages other movement leaders to incorporate a disability lens in their own work. Some leaders in the US disability rights movement were women, gay or lesbian, or members of a particular racial or ethnic group. These leaders remembered and deepened their existing relationships with other non-disability movement leaders and did not forget the needs of these other movements, even as they advanced the disability movement agenda. This takes extra time and commitment, but a disability rights movement must be inclusive to be truly sustainable over many decades and also must help ensure that disability reaches into every policy area that has an impact on people with disabilities.

For example, disabled women activists need to engage with mainstream women’s rights organizations to ensure that the fight against gender-based discrimination includes the voices and concerns of women with disabilities. Laws and policies designed to protect the rights of women in areas such as access to health care, employment, and ending violence should, by definition, include protection for women with disabilities.


In the United States, a diverse array of social movements became involved in the struggle to pass regulations to enforce Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. In April 1977, disability rights leaders and coalitions undertook what became a 26-day takeover of a federal building in San Francisco, California, to pressure the Carter administration into signing and implementing Section 504 regulations. Non-disability advocacy groups provided needed support outside the building because anyone who left the building would not be allowed to return. For example, the Black Panthers (a movement of African American activist) and the Gray Panthers (activists fighting age discrimination) donated food, supplies, and funds for such needs as medications and medical equipment to support the protesters inside the building.

Even after the struggle for 504 regulations, disability activists continued to be an integral part of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Members of the disability community worked with leaders of the civil rights conference on various issues that were important to all civil rights movements, such as a 1991 Civil Rights law that helped amend how employment discrimination cases, including disability, could be brought, proven, or compensated in court. The Leadership Conference also provided strategic feedback and political support when the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was passed to rectify the impact of a series of key disability discrimination cases from the US Supreme Court.


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