On April 5, 1977, American people with and without disabilities showed the world the power of grassroots activism. In San Francisco, more than 100 people began a twenty-six day occupation of the Federal Building to insist on getting civil rights. Four years earlier, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 made it illegal for any federally funded facilities or programs to discriminate against disabled people. One signature from the head of Health Education and Welfare (HEW) stood in the way of the law taking effect. People waited and waited. At last in 1977 frustration turned into bold action. A diverse coalition launched protests across the country. San Francisco’s occupation was the most significant. On April 30, 1977, San Francisco’s Section 504 occupiers emerged victorious from the longest take-over of a federal building in US history. A national disability rights movement was born.
San Francisco’s occupation of the HEW Building at 50 United Nations Plaza became the focal point of the protest. Enduring hardships, deprivations and medical risks, the occupiers dug in, finally emerging to join an April 30, 1977, victory rally after Secretary Califano signed the 504 regulations unchanged.
A virtual exhibit exploring this historical milestone in disability history is available at: