Before long, Kitty Cone enrolled at Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington and felt discriminated against.
Cone was walking with a stick, and the headmistress of the seminary, a private women’s school, began to impose strange rules that separated her from the rest of the student body. For example, she asked Cone to bathe in a separate tub outside the suite that she shared with three other girls. But the tub was so big that she had difficulty getting out, so she only used the one in her suite. Another time, she was denied a school activity, but left anyway. They have expelled these acts.
“The headmistress kicked me out for a variety of reasons, but everything has to do with disability,” Cone said in a 2009 interview for the University of Illinois Archives. because she gave me these prohibitions. “
It wasn’t the first time Cone experienced injustice because of her disability, and it wasn’t the last.
This was in the 1960s when people with disabilities did not have basic civil rights in the United States – movie theaters, for example, could refuse to sell tickets to wheelchair users, and blind and deaf people received little support. As the experience of Cone shows, even an apprenticeship was not a guarantee. People with disabilities were often institutionalized and largely isolated from society. It wasn’t until 1990 that discrimination was banned under the landmark Act on Americans with Disabilities.
Cone’s expulsion from school inspired her to devote the rest of her life to fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.
“Things that happened in my life determined the fact that I would be an activist,” she said in an oral story from 2013. “So many decisions in my life have been shaped by the fact that I had a disability . “
Cone was the primary organizer and strategist of the 504 Sit-In, a nearly four-week protest in April 1977 in which nearly 150 disabled people and their allies took over the San Francisco office of the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Their intent was to pressure Secretary Joseph Califano Jr. to sign regulations that implement Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and prohibit state aid programs from discriminating against “otherwise qualified persons with a disability.” The act paved the way for the ADA.
Cone was the “organizational brain” behind the sit-in, said Mary Lou Breslin, a close friend who attended the demonstration and helped mobilize a coalition of supporters among other activist groups, including the Black Panthers, to support the people hot meals were provided by protesters and machinist unionists who hired trucks to transport them as they led the fight to Washington.
“She believed in the depths of her soul that the wider you build, the greater your chances of success,” said Lorrie Beth Slonsky, who met Cone at Section 504 advocacy training in 1979 and remained her friend.
The 504 Sit-In is the longest non-violent occupation of a federal building in US history.
The group eventually managed to sign the regulations, and in a victory speech they delivered on April 30, 1977, Cone said the disabled community had “written a new page in American history.”