WID History

Leading global disability rights since 1983

The World Institute on Disability (WID) was established in 1983 as one of the first global disability rights organizations founded and continually led by people with disabilities.

We are proud of our rich history, including our incredible founders - Disability Rights Movement leaders Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann, and Joan Leon.

Timeline of Significant Accomplishments

WID has worked on a wide range of projects, legislation, and collaborations over the past 40 years, more than we could hope to cover here! Below are some highlights of the work we have done - the timeline will be updated at the end of each year with our current projects.

  • 2023

    WID's 40th Anniversary

    WID celebrated 40 years of advancing the rights and opportunities of disabled people globally! Check out our 40th anniversary virtual celebration video with performances by Ali Stroker and Lachi, speakers from WID and our partners, and data from our Global Strategic Planning Sessions we will use as guidance leading into our 50th in 2033.

  • 2021 to 2022

    Launch of the 10th and 11th DB101 Sites

    WID launched 2 new DB101 websites: Colorado in 2021 and Illinois in 2022, bringing the total to 11 DB101 states.

  • 2020

    Launch of Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration (GADRA)

    WID in partnership with disability-led organizations (DLOs), businesses, and other organizations launched the Global Alliance for Disaster Resource Acceleration (GADRA), a unique alternative to traditional charity approaches to disaster aid led by disability-led organizations

  • 2018 to 2021

    Transportation Resilience, Accessibility & Climate Sustainability (TRACS)

    WID collaborated with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for a two and a half year research and community engagement project to stimulate connection and communication between the community of seniors & people with disabilities together with the transportation system– the agencies in the region local to the San Francisco Bay, served by MTC. 

    TRACS investigated and documented the state of accessibility of our local transportation systems. We created an active ten-member Policy Advisory Group, then conducted interviews, focus groups, surveys and workshops, to offer information and invite input from all our stakeholder communities.

    The findings from this study can be found on our Transportation Accessibility page

  • 2018

    Launch of Kentucky DB101

    WID launched the ninth DB101 state website, Kentucky DB101

  • 2016 to 2017

    CFPB Your Money, Your Goals

    WID worked with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to ensure that their financial literacy resources and tools were accessible and relevant for people with disabilities.

    CFPB Your Money, Your Goals resources and tools

  • 2015 to 2021

    Conference Access

    With the support of JPMorgan Chase, WID made national conferences more accessible for people with disabilities. WID coordinated accessibility services including captioning and ASL interpretation, an on-site Disability Concierge Desk, and scholarships with accessible accommodations and mobility equipment rentals for people with disabilities who wanted to attend the conferences.

    In 2020, when many conferences were cancelled or moved to virtual environments, WID developed a suite of resources hosted on our Conference Access Resources page to help conferences make their virtual and hybrid events accessible.

  • 2015 to 2017

    FDIC Money Smart

    WID worked with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) to make their Money Smart book accessible and relevant for people with disabilities

    Link to FDIC Money Smart

  • 2015 to 2016

    Launch of 2 More DB101 Sites

    WID launched 2 new DB101 websites: Ohio in 2015 and Alaska in 2016, bringing the total to 8 DB101 states.

  • 2015

    Start of WID's Accessibility Consulting Services

    WID began working directly with companies to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities via disability-led surveys and focus groups, user experience testing, climate assessments and audits, training, and advisory services.

    Learn more about WID's Accssibility Solutions Services

  • 2014 to 2017

    ABLE Account Advocacy

    The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed in 2014, allowing people with disabilities in the U.S. who were diagnosed with a disability before the age of 26 to open an ABLE account, to save thousands of dollars without impacting their disability benefits via the standard $2,000 asset limit. WID worked on outreach to share information about ABLE acconts with people with disabilities, hosted a launch event, and also advocated for amendments to the ABLE Act to expand the program eligibility.

  • 2014 to 2015

    Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities as Part of the Solution in the Post Conflict Arena

    WID worked with the United States Institute of Peace to publish a case study that took place in Sierra Leone about the disproportionate impact of the violent conflict and war on people with disabilities. The case study is called “The Involvement of Persons with Disabilities in Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding Efforts: Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (PWD) as Part of the Solution in the Post Conflict Arena” and was revised February 2015. Link to the accessible PDF of the case study

  • 2014 to 2015

    EQUITY Book and Videos Are Published

    WID combined all of our asset-building tools into several YouTube videos and an 8-chapter, 100-page book, "EQUITY: Asset-Building Strategies for People with Disabilities", which covers core topics ranging from navigating benefits to identity theft to retirement.

    If you would like a copy of EQUITY, please contact us at wid@wid.org

  • 2012 to 2017

    Nutrition Education, Weight Myths, Disability Opportunities, Options and Resources (NEW DOOR)

    Nutrition Education, Weight Myths, Disability Opportunities, Options and Resources (NEW DOOR)* was a large, collaborative research project on fitness and nutrition that explored barriers to healthy lifestyles for people with disabilities. It aimed to provide accessible, disability-friendly exercise, nutrition, and peer-support activities, information, and resources. The project included three disability community fitness fairs and a website full of recipes, tips, and resources.
    *The original title of the project used the word "obesity", but was retroactively re-named and edited to be more inclusive and respectful of people with disabilities of size
  • 2012 to 2014

    Justice and Dignity in the Middle East-North Africa Region Program

    WID participated in rapid response projects with marginalized populations — disabled persons and women, for example — to increase their engagement in elections and the political process.

  • 2011 to 2012

    Launch of 3 More DB101 Sites

    WID launched 3 new DB101 websites: Arizona, Missouri, and Michigan, bringing the total to 6 DB101 states.

  • 2011

    Ed Roberts Campus Opens

    The Ed Roberts Campus was built in the memory of Disability Rights Movement leader and WID co-founder, Ed Roberts. The building is uniquely designed to be accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, and is considered an example of universal design. The campus is jointly owned by a group of 7 disability organizations, including WID. WID remains a proud partial owner of the building, welcoming international delegations of disabled leaders for tours and discussions.

    Link to learn more about the Ed Roberts Campus

  • 2009 to 2014

    Georgian Wheelchair Production Network

    The Georgian Wheelchair Production Network established a sustainable wheelchair production and repair facility and a postural support seating and cushion service. It developed a mobility, self-care, and advocacy skills training system for wheelchair users, and is conducting advocacy, public education, and community accessibility barrier removal activities.

    Link to learn more about the Georgian Wheelchair Production Network

  • 2009

    Launch of 3rd DB101 Site

    WID launched the Minnesota DB101 website, the third DB101 state.

  • 2008

    Proyecto Visión

    Proyecto Visión worked to bridge cultural and language gaps to create relevant support for Latinx people with disabilities ages 16 to 35 to successfully transition from school to higher education, independent living, and employment. The program included providing role models and mentors, and eventually expanded to include other multiply-marginalized young people with disabilities.

  • 2008 to 2009

    Community Advocacy Training in Iraq

    WID collaborated with Mercy Corps and the Iraqui National Disability Coalition to adapt, train and implement WID’s community advocacy training model with youth disability leaders from Sunni, Shia and Kurdish disability NGOs and across multiple regions.

  • 2007

    Launch of Second DB101 State Website

    WID launched the New Jersey DB101 website

  • 2006

    Latinos with Disabilities in the United States Understanding & Addressing Barriers to Employment

    WID released an in-depth analysis in Spanish and English, “Latinos with Disabilities in the United States Understanding & Addressing Barriers to Employment” about the challenges Latinos with Disabilities face in the U.S. job market. The publication included employment practices and individual success stories.

  • 2004 to 2014

    Access to Assets Program

    WID’s Access to Assets project began in 2004, to open doors for the disability community by promoting asset building and financial literacy amongst people with disabilities. It included a series of national, in-person asset building seminars explained how to build a banking relationship, reduce debt, start a small business, save for retirement, and purchase and sustain home ownership. In addition to training, WID had regular newsletters for over a decade under the “EQUITY” initiative in order to spread information about these tools.

  • 2004 to 2006

    International Disability Advocacy Training Network

    WID implemented a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded disability advocacy training network between countries in conflict (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia and America)

  • 2004

    DB101 Launches

    After 2 years of planning and building, WID launched the first Disability Benefits 101 (DB101) website, California DB101. DB101 is a comprehensive, state-specific online digital resource that enables people with disabilities and their circles of support to make informed decisions about employment.

  • 2004

    Integrating Universal Design Principles in Asset Building Programs

    WID published “Integrating Universal Design Principles in Asset Building Programs”. Universal design began as a physical accommodation and revolutionized the idea of what access can be.

  • 1999

    National Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act

    WID’s health and benefits policy recommendations are found in the U.S. National Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act that was passed on November 17, 1999

  • 1998 to 2002

    Personal Assistance Abuse Research Projects

    The Oregon Health and Science University funded WID’s Women’s Personal Assistance Services Abuse Research Projectin 1998, followed by the Men’s Personal Assistant Services Abuse Research Project in 2002.

  • 1995 to 1999

    Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center project

    The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center project was a four year subcontract under Gallaudet University. It researched strategies to ensure access to telecommunications and new information systems for people with disabilities. An innovative feature of this project was its research into access for people with cognitive disabilities.

  • 1995 to 1997

    ARSD Training

    WID and the All-Russian Society of the Disabled (ARSD) partnered to develop in-service a training system for 6000 ARSD staff in over 50 regions in management, social services, legislation, disability awareness and public education through the media.

  • 1995

    Society for Disability Studies

    WID hosted the Society for Disability Studies in Oakland which brought non-academic scholars, program developers, and policy-makers together with academic scholars and generated public dialogue on disability issues.

  • 1995

    Ed Roberts Memorial Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Rehabilitation Research Program

    WID and UC Berkeley collaborated to launch the Ed Roberts Memorial Post-Doctoral Fellowships in Rehabilitation Research Program, supporting the research and career development of promising leaders in the field of rehabilitation and independent living.

  • 1994 to 1996

    Opened WID Office in Moscow for Training

    WID opened an office in Moscow to train representatives of the All-Russian Society of the Disabled, a 2.4 million-member organization, in management, public education, and media.

  • 1994 to 1996

    Universal Access Project

    Universal Access Project formulated technical strategies and policy options to ensure access for people with disabilities to the emerging information superhighway.

  • 1993 to 1994

    Honduras Peace Scholarship

    The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ‘s Academy for Educational Development’s funded WID’s Honduras Peace Scholarship program.

  • 1993

    The Community Yardstick

    WID worked in partnership with CIL, Berkeley; Harlem ILC; and St. Louis Paraquad, to implement the “Community Yardstick,” a training and set of indicators to help people with disabilities measure the quality of life in their communities and create necessary change.

  • 1993

    Realizing the Rehabilitation Potential for Individual Living with HIV/AIDS

    WID began an AIDS and disability project funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, titled “Realizing the Rehabilitation Potential for Individual Living with HIV/AIDS.” The Division’s work also included developing and demonstrating the effectiveness of an HIV/AIDS disability support group for women of color, training for wide audiences, and working with four State Rehabilitation Agencies (NY, NJ, FL and CA) to improve systems for people with HIV/AIDS. 

    The HIV/AIDS & Disability Division  also developed “Vocational Rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS: A Resource and Training Manual” for vocational rehabilitation counselors. WID conducted local and national training, technical assistance, and research on HIV/AIDS related disabilities and produced a video on the disabling effects of HIV disease.

  • 1992 to 1995

    Leadership Training for El Salvadorans and Hondurans with Disabilities and Service Providers

    The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Associates funded leadership training for El Salvadorans and Hondurans with Disabilities and Service Providers/CLASP II

  • 1991 to 1997

    Special Projects and Demonstration Improving Rehab Services for Persons with HIV

    From 1991- 1997, the Department of Education funded the Special Projects and Demonstration Improving Rehab Services for Persons with HIV to train counselors in 4 states about the needs of clients with HIV/AIDS

  • 1990

    Designing Accessibiliy Into the Information Superhighway

    Under the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) of the US Department of Commerce, WID collaborated with the University of Wisconsin’s Trace Center and Boston’s CPB/WGBH National Center for Accessible Media to design accessibility into the information superhighway (the Internet)

  • 1990

    Personal Assistance National Cost Effectiveness Study

    With a grant from the Department of Education, WID conducted a national cost effectiveness study on personal assistance services. In partnership with the American Bar Association, WID examined liability issues affecting consumer-directed personal assistance services.

  • Spring of 1988

    Research of Personal Assistance Services

    In the spring of 1988, WID completed an in-depth research study of personal assistance services in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

  • September 1985

    Aging & the Indpendent Living Movement

    In September 1985, WID and the Institute on Health and Aging, University of California, San Francisco brought together leaders of the aging and disability fields to create a dialogue on the concepts of aging within the Independent Living movement at the National Conference on Aging and Disability.

  • May 1983

    WID Founded

    The World Institute on Disability was founded in 1983. It is a private non-profit corporation focusing on major policies derived from the perspective of the disability community. It was founded by Judy Heumann, Joan Leon and Ed Roberts. It functions as a research center and as a resource for information (such as training, public education and technical assistance).

Learn More

More WID History can be found at the University of California, Berkeley's Bancroft Library, as part of their Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement collection. A detailed Collection Guide is available via the Online Archive of California.

If you have additional questions about the history and projects of the World Institute on Disability, we are happy to help! Please contact us at wid@wid.org

Black and white photo of the 3 founders of WID, Ed, Joan, and Judy. They are all smiling