This Month in Disability History
May 2014
By Michael Reynolds for Ability Maine

May 1, 1956 - The polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk is made available to the public.

The Salk Vaccine, discovered in April, 1955, was made available on this date. Salk, who did not patent the vaccine as he had no desire to profit from his discovery, and instead encouraged the vaccine to be manufactured and disseminated throughout the world. In 1963, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, which is  a leading center for medical and scientific research. He continued to conduct research and publish books.  Dr. Salk's last years were spent searching for a vaccine against AIDS.

May 12, 1967 - Stephen Colbert was born.

Colbert, a comedian, journalist and "conservative" pundit for Comedy Central's "Colbert Report" When he was younger, he had hoped to study marine biology, but surgery intended to repair a severely perforated eardrum caused him inner ear damage sufficient to rule out a career that would involve scuba diving, as well as leaving him deaf in his right ear, Colbert would find Theater a suitable outlet, and become involved with Improvisational theater, landing roles in "Strangers with Candy", and "The Daily Show" before landing his satirical role on "The Colbert Report." In Early 2014 it was announced he will host The Late Show when David Letterman retires later this year.

May 15, 1995 – Ed Roberts wheelchair donated to the Smithsonian.

While Ed Roberts, the founder of the modern independent living movement, died in March of 1995, his memorial was not until Monday, May 15, 1995. Ed's memorial was to be held in conjunction with the NCIL conference. Roberts had his memorial at one of the Senate Office Buildings.  After his wheelchair was towed by several leaders of the independent living movement to the Smithsonian. In 2000, in conjunction with the celebration of the tenth anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act, The Smithsonian showcased an exhibit on the history of the disability rights movement.


May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis commits suicide.

Ian Curtis, the enigmatic lead singer of the post punk band Joy Division would commit suicide, leaving a wife and infant daughter. Curtis had severe Epilepsy that was getting progressively worse. Hailed in the United Kingdom as a band who were recreating and defining the definition of punk music. His death came hours before the band was to depart for their eagerly anticipated first American Tour.  The surviving members of the band formed the electronic group New Order, whose  music would be the basis for much of the electronic and dance genres of today. Bands as varied as U2, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, The Smiths  and the Smashing Pumpkins have cited Curtis as a major influence. Joy Division’s best known single is "Love will Tear us Apart". “Control”, A stunning biographical film about Mr. Curtis, Directed by Anton Corbin was released in 2007. The remaining members of Joy Division went on to form New Order, whose music would focus on distinctive electronic dance music and would chart a number of hit singles through the eighties and the nineties.

May 27, 1995 – Christopher Reeve Paralyzed

Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an accident during the cross country portion of an Eventing competition, located in Culpepper, Virginia and became a ventilator dependent quadriplegic. He spent much of the rest of his life lobbying on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, and for human embryonic stem cell research after this accident. He founded the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. He returned to acting and wrote several books, including one with his wife, Dana.  Reeve died at age 52 on October 10, 2004, from cardiac arrest caused by a systemic infection.