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Audio version

Disability rights activists congregate in San Francisco's U.N. Plaza (City Hall is visible in the background) in 1977 to protest the failure of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act's Section 504 regulations to be released.

it, without understanding that the language in the law's Section 504 would usher in civil rights for people with disabilities.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Dr. James L. Cherry, a veteran with quadriplegia who was a research patient at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, read Section 504 and asked the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) when the regulations would be promulgated. HEW told him never, since it was just a policy statement.

“I aggressively disagreed,” wrote Cherry in The Ragged Edge. “I didn't see mere ‘policy’ - I saw legal rights and power; and I wanted both.”

Cherry sought support from disability groups to push for regulations to be written, but didn't have much luck. Finally, he convinced attorneys from the Georgetown University Law Center to help him file a federal lawsuit, Cherry V. Mathews, on Feb. 13, 1976. He won his case and HEW was ordered to develop regulations. At the same time, and unknown to Cherry, the new American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities was also lobbying HEW for Section 504 regulations.

In 1974, Linda Pedro, from New Mexico, sued under 504 for the right to stay in her own home and raise her son. Pedro became quadriplegic after sustaining a spinal cord injury in a car accident. Her husband left her with a young son. Rather than provide services and supports, the state planned to break up her family by forcing her into a