My Medicaid, My Life

Talking Books for the Blind

The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew RuberyTalking Books for the Blind

I received my first Talking Book player sometime in 1969, about two years after I was no longer able to read most printed material. This was one of the old, black fabric-covered players, weighing about 10 pounds, with a .25-inch headphone jack located at one corner of the foldup speaker. Soon after I received my first Sony reel to reel, and I can still recall the excitement I experienced with the arrival of each new book in its heavy strapped container filled with either several reels of magnetic tape or a stack of disks snuggled in paper sleeves that usually reeked of cigarette smoke. My first Recordings for the Blind (now Learning Ally) order included 70 books I had always wanted to read, and their textbooks were critical in obtaining both my undergraduate and graduate degrees.

I have witnessed a large portion of the history of Talking Books personally, from those heavy disk players to their lightweight plastic replacements, from disks to cassettes to the leap over CD titles directly, if not belatedly, to digital cartridges and downloads. I have also enjoyed an Audible subscription since late 2000, setting my 56k modem to download a book before I went to bed with the hope that it would be there come morning so I could load it onto my cutting edge Digital Audio Player. Despite my nearly half-century with Talking Books, recorded textbooks, and commercially available best sellers, there is still a lot of history I missed.

The concept of a “talking book” goes all the way back to Thomas Edison, whose very first recording was “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” There’s a lot of history between that first, lost recording and my latest Audible download. Happily, this history has been researched and compiled in an excellent new book from Harvard University Press, The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery.

The book is available in multiple formats: hardcover, Kindle, iBook, audiobook edition, and audio CD. I felt it only proper to obtain the audiobook version, which is produced by Blackstone Audio.

Although the book’s title uses the term “Talking Book,” this history is not limited to books produced by the Library of Congress and the Royal National Institute of Blind People. The author uses this term because, as you will see, originally it was a goal, a dream waiting for technology to catch up in order to be realized.


The author begins with an extended preface wrestling with these three issues surrounding recorded books:

  • Does an audiobook have standing as an actual book?
  • The public’s changing reception and acceptance of audiobooks.
  • The still ongoing controversy over whether listening to a book counts as reading.

Rubery presents the facts without judgment, though in my personal opinion there is one area in which the facts are incomplete. When discussing whether or not listening to a book is the same as reading, the author cites studies of braille readers in which they discover that the visual cortex of such readers is stimulated the same as it is with print readers. In people who listen to books these areas are not stimulated. There seems to be little research as to what happens when a blind person listens to an audiobook. Myself, I often find my eyes tracking from left to right as I listen–especially when I am listening to synthesized speech, where the line breaks are more obvious–and the letters and words appear in my mind’s eye. I asked a blind friend who has never read print and who is a proficient braille reader about this–he relates the same phenomenon, only with braille letters and words. Interestingly, both of us find ourselves visualizing the words of overheard conversations when we are bored.

The remainder of the book is divided into three parts: Origins of Audiobooks, Talking Books for the Blind, and Audiobooks Go Mainstream.

Origins of Audiobooks

The very first recording Thomas Edison ever made was a recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” which can be considered the first audiobook. The original recording was lost, but Edison did re-record it, and you can hear this recording on YouTube.

Since recording technology could only capture minutes of sound at the time, the dream of audiobooks was just that, a dream. But it is fun, learning about some of the grandiose dreams some people had, including hats containing audio encyclopedias, stores stocked with “Books in bottles,” and public books with tubes leading in through the windows of nearby houses so the great works of literature could be played to all.

Talking Books for the Blind

The lion’s share of this book is devoted to the history of Talking Books for the Blind, which were originally sponsored here in the US by our own American Foundation for the Blind, and in Great Britain by the Royal National Institute of Blind People. In both cases it took the blinded veterans of World War I to spur action. Prior to the war, blindness was not considered a societal obligation. But blinded veterans were a different matter.

The first Talking Book produced by AFB and the Library of Congress was a recording of “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was followed by such patriotic documents as the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. I am told that the Library of Congress still has copies of these old recordings. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage them to create a sampler book of some of these recordings.

At first it was deemed that all recorded books should be instructional and inspirational. Very little fiction was allowed at first, but readers began to demand it, and so things changed.

Rubery offers a number of snippets of correspondents from early readers. I was especially amused by the woman who excoriated the service severely for sending her what she considered to be a filthy book, but ended her letter by requesting she be sent another book by the same author.

The book covers the issues of book selection, censorship–both sexual and political–and the move from active to passive narration, where the narrator does his or her best to remain in the background. It also delves into the initial difficulties encountered when seeking rights. For example, both Margret Mitchell and Rudyard Kipling resisted for years having their books recorded for the blind, as both were convinced the recordings would wind up being played on the radio and thus affect future book royalties.

Initially, Helen Keller was against Talking Books, as she felt it would diminish braille literacy. However since most blind people were older and did not know braille she changed her viewpoint, and in fact, it was due to her encouragement the Library of Congress became involved.

Audiobooks Go Mainstream

Ironically, according to Rubery, it was the success of Talking Books for the Blind that for years inhibited the general public from considering audiobooks. Recorded books were for the blind, and they were a lazy way to read, and it wasn’t really reading, anyway.

Not until 1952 when an upstart recording company called Caedmon Audio released Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” did people begin listening to what were then called “spoken word” recordings. Indeed, I find on Wikipedia that the original recording was a 2008 selection for the United States National Recording Registry, stating that it is “credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States.” I’d like to amend that to “commercially available audiobooks.” Other famous authors followed, including Carl Sandburg and Arthur C. Clark. An LPs still-limited space meant there were considerable abridgements, which led to adaptions, and even dramatizations, with full casts, music, and sound effects.

Rubery concludes the book with a history of commercially available audiobooks, from Books on Tape all the way through books on CD and now downloadable books from various sources, including the reigning king, Audible.

The old arguments have returned: Should the works be dramatized or narrated in a neutral voice that stays out of the way of the narrative? Are we “reading” or “listening” to books, which can now even be read to us by artificial speech? There is also one new controversy not present in Talking Books for the Blind: should the complete text be recorded, or are abridgements OK?

Happily, the last of these has more or less been decided on the unabridged side of the argument. As for the other two, does it really matter? Either way, we are consuming more books, making better use of our time to “read” or “listen” on the go. Here I have to agree wholeheartedly with the author when he sums up the audiobook experience delightfully: “Audiobooks are for people who hate reading and for those of us who love reading. Audiobooks are for people who can’t read, and for people who can’t read enough.”


When I was 16 I read what was available; these days I read what I want. If I see an interesting author on TV, or hear about a great new book on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” I can nearly always find it available in some accessible format immediately. I can’t imagine a life without books, and this book was a real “eye-opener” as to all it took to get us from there to here.

Above all, let us not forget that, sighted or blind, for nearly all of us our first experience with books was via the spoken word–the voices of our mothers and fathers who read to us and instilled in us the joys and pleasures of a good book.

About the Author

Matthew Rubery is an audiobook historian and Professor of Modern Literature at Queen Mary University of London. He edited the essay collection Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies and co-curated “How We Read: A Sensory History of Books for Blind People,” a public exhibition held at the UK’s first annual Being Human festival.

Book Information

Title: The Untold Story of the Talking Book, by Matthew Rubery (Harvard University Press)

Price: Hardcover, $29.95; Kindle, $16.17; Audible, $24.47 (or free with 30 day Audible trial); audio CD, $29.95

Available from: Harvard University Press, Amazon, Audible, Barnes and Noble

ASL interpreters are bringing visuals to a hearing-centric musical world

A growing number of ASL interpreters are bringing visuals to a hearing-centric musical world.

Amber Galloway Gallego is one of a growing number of American Sign Language interpreters who specialize in the performing arts. If you frequent music festivals and concerts, you might see her — or an interpreter like her — grooving to the music, mirroring the emotions and physicality of the artists onstage, interpreting their imaginative lyrics for concert-goers who rely on visual accommodations. She’s interpreted for more than 400 artists at this point, and has a special knack for interpreting hip-hop acts.

You might have seen this viral video floating around of her signing alongside Kendrick Lamar’s live performance at Lollapalooza. For the hearing audience, watching Amber is captivating and fascinating; for the deaf community, it’s vital.

In the video above, Amber breaks apart the challenges of interpreting a hearing-centric music world into a visual one and explains some clever ways she has visualized some rather complex lyrics.

Using a Wheelchair in NYC Subways: Few Entrances and Sometimes No Exit

New York Has a Great Subway, if You’re Not in a Wheelchair

A New Yorker shows why people with disabilities avoid the train.

Nearly eight years ago, on a bright summer morning in Manhattan, I was walking through Central Park when an enormous rotted tree branch snapped and fell on my head.

What came next was a remarkable turn of events that saved my life. First, a doctor out for a morning jog saw me lying unconscious, and used a pair of jeans he dug out of my backpack to slow the bleeding until an ambulance came. I was treated at the intensive care unit at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and underwent rehabilitation at Helen Hayes Hospital in Rockland County, where a skilled medical team worked tirelessly for more than a month treating injuries to my head, lungs and spine. And over the next six months, nonstop support from loved ones and expert rehabilitative care helped me recover much of what I had lost.

But there was one feat they could not accomplish. The accident had caused spinal cord damage, which partly paralyzed my lower body. It was clear I was going to have to use a wheelchair to get around.

Among the first challenges I faced was navigating my neighborhood in New York on wheels. With practice, I slowly increased my range, and began getting around the city independently. I took buses, taxis and eventually the subway. I returned to work as a software engineer at Google 18 months after my accident.

I felt grateful to have come back so far, but each time a broken curb tipped over my wheelchair, a taxi refused to stop for me or a stalled subway elevator left me stranded, my frustration mounted. I became increasingly aware of how large, inflexible bureaucracies with a “good enough” approach to infrastructure and services can disenfranchise citizens with disabilities, many of whom cannot bridge these gaps on their own.

Before my injury, I had felt that dealing with grittiness and unreliability were the price of entry for living in New York, and even took a smug pride in dealing with obstacles. Since my accident, I have been humbled to realize the often dire effect of civic dysfunction on the vulnerable, and have had to recognize that some of what I once took for resourcefulness was in truth enabled by privilege.

I was once like many other able-bodied New Yorkers, only vaguely aware of subway elevators, merely noting that they seemed dingy and often out of service. But now that I needed them, the reality was more stark. New York’s subway is by far the least wheelchair-friendly public transit system of any major American city, with only 92 of the system’s 425 stations accessible. That means fewer than one in four stations can be used by people in wheelchairs when elevators are working — and they frequently are not.

On average, 25 elevators a day stop working, and these breakdowns are not quickly resolved; their median duration is nearly four hours. Moreover, with a single elevator serving both directions at most stops, a breakdown means that a disabled rider exiting the train will be trapped on the platform, and one hoping to board will have to find some other way to travel to where they need to go.

Other problems make this bad situation worse: There is no sure way for riders to know when a breakdown has occurred: There are no intercom announcements, and the listings on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s website are unreliable. In the past month only two of the eight elevator failures I encountered were listed, making it likely that official statistics are an undercount.

I often wheel off a train only to discover that the sole elevator to ground level is out of service. No information on alternate routes is posted as it is for other service changes and delays — indeed, subway personnel are often unaware of the situation. So the options are to wait for the next train and continue to an accessible stop — possibly many stations away — or call the fire department to be carried up the stairs.

I’ve done both, although on occasion fellow passengers have agreed to carry me — a 170-pound stranger in a wheelchair — up to the street. And it has been heartening to find that in moments of need, people step forward to help.

But these acts by individuals cannot be accepted as a substitute for a functional system. Rather, a system that routinely leaves vulnerable riders stranded has abdicated its responsibility. The need for extraordinary goodness, like that shown by the doctor in Central Park, should be the exception, not the rule.

All of this can make an accessible subway seem impossible. But it isn’t.

When I traveled to Boston several years ago, I was amazed to discover that its subway system — as old as New York’s, though far smaller, with only 53 stations — is more than 90 percent wheelchair-accessible.

Was Boston just a nicer town? Not necessarily. The admirable accessibility was legally mandated. In 2002, wheelchair users sued Boston’s transit authority and the eventual settlement included guarantees for elevator construction, maintenance and monitoring.

So are legal challenges the only way to get equal access for the disabled? They are undoubtedly a useful tool, and sometimes a necessary one. But however change comes, accessibility advocates will have to counter the belief that devoting resources to help one group necessarily shortchanges others.

The lawyer and activist Angela Glover Blackwell shows in her study “The Curb-Cut Effect” that there are times when steps initially taken to aid one population — like people with disabilities — are ultimately good for all. As she recounts, in the early 1970s, pedestrian curb cuts were unheard-of in American cities. A group of wheelchair activists in Berkeley, Calif., frustrated about the difficulty of wheeling around their city, began pouring concrete for makeshift ramps that would ease getting on and off sidewalks.

At first, the activists were threatened with arrest, but before long the first official curb cut was made and many cities followed, as they realized what now seems obvious: The curb cuts weren’t useful only for wheelchair users. Parents with strollers, workers with handcarts and travelers with luggage all benefited. This action helped people with disabilities integrate further into economic and cultural life. When I go to work, or pick up my children from school, those curb cuts help me get there.

I owe a debt to those activists, and to others whose actions helped move us toward the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Now it is my turn to speak up, thank my fellow New Yorkers for their underrated kindness, and ask the transit authority to commit to follow their lead and work for all of us.

U.S. Access Board Issues Guidance on the International Symbol of Accessibility

U.S. Access Board Issues Guidance on the International Symbol of Accessibility

March 27, 2017

The U.S. Access Board provides the following guidance on use of the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA) under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). This guidance explains how use of a symbol other than the ISA may impact compliance with standards issued under the ADA and the ABA.

Created in 1968 through a design competition by Rehabilitation International and adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the ISA has served as a global icon for accessibility for almost 50 years. The ISO is an independent, non-governmental organization that represents over 160 national standard-setting entities and develops voluntary, consensus-based, international standards. As part of an ISO standard (ISO 7001 Graphic Symbols – Public Information Symbols), the ISA reflects considerable analysis by, and the consensus of, an international collection of technical experts.

The ISA continues to be recognized worldwide as a symbol identifying accessible elements and spaces. Standards issued under the ADA and ABA Standards reference and reproduce the ISA to ensure consistency in the designation of accessible elements and spaces. Uniform iconography promotes legibility, especially for people with low vision or cognitive disabilities. In addition, various codes and standards in the U.S. also require use of the ISA. They include the International Codes Council’s International Building Code and ICC A117.1 Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code and NFPA 170 Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols, and the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, among others.

Use of the ISA Under the ADA

The ADA Standards apply nationwide to places of public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities. Promulgated by the Department of Justice (28 CFR Parts 35 and 36) and the Department of Transportation (49 CFR Part 37), the ADA Standards require use of the ISA to label or provide direction to certain accessible spaces and elements, including parking spaces, entrances, toilet and bathing facilities, and check-out aisles (§216 and §703.7.2.1). In addition, ADA Standards for Transportation Vehicles (49 CFR Part 38) implemented by the Department of Transportation (DOT) require that the ISA be used to designate accessible vehicles.

A symbol other than the ISA will not comply with the ADA Standards unless it satisfies the “equivalent facilitation” provision (§103). This provision allows alternatives to prescribed requirements if they result in “substantially equivalent or greater accessibility and usability.” The burden of proof in demonstrating equivalent facilitation rests with the covered entity in the event of a legal challenge. Under DOT’s ADA Standards, certain entities responsible for transportation facilities and systems, as well as manufacturers of products and vehicles used in transportation systems, can request a determination of equivalent facilitation from DOT as outlined in its ADA regulations (§37.7 and §37.9). If a court — or DOT, where DOT’s ADA Standards are being applied — determined that an alternate symbol did not provide “equivalent facilitation,” that symbol would not be permitted.

Use of the ISA Under the ABA

Standards issued under the ABA apply to facilities designed, built, or altered with federal funds or leased by federal agencies. The ABA Standards are implemented by the Department of Defense, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the General Services Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service. Like the ADA Standards, these standards mandate use of the ISA to label or provide direction to certain accessible spaces and elements (§F216 and §703.7.2.1).

Any departure from the ABA Standards, including the referenced ISA, requires a waiver or modification (§F103). The agencies that implement the ABA Standards have authority to grant modifications and waivers on a case-by-case basis where “clearly necessary.” Modifications and waivers are rare and are usually considered only in unique circumstances that make compliance with certain provisions exceptionally problematic. The Access Board is responsible for making sure that modifications and waivers are based on findings of fact and are consistent with the ABA.


Use of a symbol other than the ISA is permitted under the ADA Standards only if it satisfies the equivalent facilitation provision and under the ABA Standards only if a waiver or modification is issued. Otherwise, where the ADA or ABA Standards require accessible spaces or elements to be identified by the ISA, the ISA must be used even where a state or local code or regulation specifies a different symbol. Those who are interested in implementing an alternative symbol of accessibility are encouraged to contact the ISO’s Technical Committee 145 on Graphic Symbols which maintains the graphic symbol standards.

A Wheelchair on Broadway Isn’t Exploitation. It’s Progress.

Sally Fields and Madison Ferris

Sally Fields and Madison Ferris. And a wheelchair

There’s a wheelchair onstage at the Belasco Theater, and it’s drawing an abundance of attention. There’s also a wheelchair onstage at a small theater not far away, and it’s drawing practically no attention at all. The gulf between the two says quite a lot.

At the Belasco, the Broadway house on West 44th Street, the wheelchair is one of the conspicuous elaborations the director Sam Gold has brought to his production of “The Glass Menagerie,” the beloved Tennessee Williams drama. The chair isn’t just a prop; it’s a necessity for the actress playing Laura, Madison Ferris, who has muscular dystrophy.

That bit of casting is, of course, a significant change from the shy girl with a limp that Williams called for in his play. And Mr. Gold’s staging leaves no doubt that Ms. Ferris is not some able-bodied actress pretending to have a disability. He has her enter by painstakingly climbing stairs, one of several times that he takes her out of the wheelchair and confronts the audience with the difficulties of having severely limited mobility.

Some leading critics have objected to the transformation of Williams’s subtle play about a family enveloped in denial into something more strident. The kindest objections say that Mr. Gold’s interpretation simply doesn’t mesh well with the text; harsher ones on theater chat boards have called his use of Ms. Ferris exploitative.

Perhaps these detractors are focusing on moments like the one in which Amanda, Laura’s mother, tells her: “You’re not crippled. You just have a little defect — hardly noticeable, even!” How can such a line make sense when there’s a wheelchair onstage?

For one thing, this is a self-described “memory play,” told through the recollections of Laura’s brother, Tom (played by Joe Mantello). And memory is an interpretation of the past, not a literal playback of it.

But, more than that, to live with a child with a disability is to be both isolated — as this family is — and susceptible to what seems to others like an unreality. My own daughter, who has a serious disability called Rett syndrome, is just three years younger than the 23-year-old Laura. Is it easy for me to imagine a parent who sees a vastly different child than the outside world sees? You bet.

As for the charge of exploitation, I read that as, “It was unpleasant to see Ms. Ferris pull herself along the floor by her arms; I prefer that people with disabilities remain invisible, as they so often are.” Broadway audiences are accustomed to seeing perfect bodies doing entertaining dance steps. Guess what, Broadway? One in five Americans has a disability, according to the census bureau.

Read the full story in the NY Times

For a Half-Century, She Has Led the Blind With Chutzpah (and Often, No Cane)

Yelp Now Tracks Gender-Neutral Bathrooms for Transgender Users

Yelp Now Tracks Gender-Neutral Bathrooms for Transgender Users

Unisex Bathroom Door ADA Signs with Gender Neutral Symbol - 12" x 12" - Triangle on Circle Sign

Unisex Bathroom Door ADA Signs with Gender Neutral Symbol – 12″ x 12″ – Triangle on Circle Sign – from ADA Sign Depot

Yelp, the crowdsourced website that offers reviews of everything from restaurants to stores to churches, is adding a new way to filter its results: by the availability of gender-neutral bathrooms.

The new feature was announced on Friday, just one week after it was proposed, and represents Yelp’s latest foray into the fight for transgender rights. On Thursday, the company joined dozens of others, including Amazon, Gap, Intel and Yahoo, in signing on to a Supreme Court brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy seeking the right to use school bathrooms that correspond to his gender identity.

“This isn’t the first time that we’ve spoken out about social issues, but this is the first time that we have married doing something on our platform around the social justice support of the L.G.B.T.Q. community,” said Rachel Williams, who leads the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

The gender-neutral bathroom filter is aimed at helping people who are transgender, who often report facing challenges in finding safe and suitable bathrooms to use.

In its 2015 National School Climate Survey, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, an advocacy group, interviewed about 1,600 transgender students and reported that 70 percent had reported avoiding school bathrooms because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable.

For now, Yelp is inviting users and business owners to identify establishments that offer locking, single-stall bathrooms that are available to individuals of any gender, with plans in the coming weeks to let users filter results based on that data, once enough is collected.

The idea was first proposed by the mother of an employee. The employee then passed it along to the company on Feb. 24, days after President Trump rescinded Obama-era protections that had allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

Motivated in part by that decision, Yelp’s product team prioritized the feature, piecing it together in four to five days, with the announcement coming just one week after the idea was proposed, Ms. Williams said.

“This administration is moving pretty fast and so this happened, the Gavin Grimm case came up, and we wanted to capture the moment,” she said.

Yelp settled on the “gender-neutral” label — instead of alternatives such as “all-gender” or “gender-inclusive” — after consulting with the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights, and others, she said.

With its platform, the company may ultimately be able to assemble the largest directory of transgender-friendly bathrooms, but it is not the first to try.

Refuge Restrooms, an open-source directory, claims to have thousands of such entries. Another listing, Safe Bathrooms Club, was introduced last March in response to a North Carolina law passed that month that required transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that corresponded to the gender on their birth certificate.

That directory was created by Emily Waggoner and her male transgender partner River Luck, who are North Carolina natives who now live in Boston. Inspired by a series of photos of transgender-friendly businesses shared by a friend online, the pair decided to create Safe Bathrooms Club.

“We saw this via Instagram and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to see those businesses on a map?’” said Ms. Waggoner, a user interface and user experience designer.

The directory addresses a problem Mr. Luck faced most acutely during his transition over the last several years. With his gender identity at times ambiguous as he underwent hormone therapy, he found himself thrust into what felt like uncomfortable and dangerous situations.

“On several occasions, we would have to leave where we were because it wasn’t safe for me to use the bathroom there, and that was terrifying,” he said.

While Yelp’s effort may overlap with theirs, Mr. Luck and Ms. Waggoner said they don’t feel threatened. “The more ways that people can find a safe bathroom, the better,” Ms. Waggoner said.

Understanding Transgender Access Laws

California requires gender-neutral bathrooms

September 2016 | Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill requiring all single-toilet bathrooms to be gender neutral, effective March 1, the first such state legislation in the country.

The highly charged debate over transgender rights has resulted in a tangle of contradictory laws governing access to public bathrooms and locker rooms across the country. Many states permit transgender people to choose bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, considering it a civil rights issue. But in a handful of states and cities, legislators are moving in the opposite direction. Here are some milestones in the national debate.

2012 | Cities including Austin, Tex.; Berkeley, Calif.; Philadelphia; Santa Fe, N.M.; and Seattle were among the first to pass laws requiring single-user all-gender restrooms, following a pattern emerging at schools and universities. Soon museums, restaurants and even the White House (in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building) began rebranding restrooms, resulting in a dizzying range of creative signage and vocabulary.

The Justice Department revises policy

December 2014 | In a memo by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the Justice Department took the position that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to claims of discrimination based on gender identity. The memo was one of a combination of policies, lawsuits and public statements that the Obama administration used to change the civil rights landscape for gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

May 2016 | The Justice and Education Departments issued guidance that, under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools receiving federal money may not discriminate based on a student’s transgender status — and that the departments would treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX.

A mention by Obama

Jan. 20, 2015 | President Barack Obama mentioned transgender people in his State of the Union address, a presidential first. “That’s why we defend free speech and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” Mr. Obama said.

Houston voters reject an anti-discrimination ordinance

Nov. 3, 2015 | After a yearlong battle, Houston voters easily repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance that banned discrimination based on several “protected characteristics,” including gender identity. Opponents said the measure would allow men claiming to be women to enter women’s bathrooms and inflict harm. The message “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms” on signs and in television and radio ads turned the debate from one about equal rights to one about protecting women and girls from sexual predators. (Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor, Annise D. Parker, in December 2009; she had pushed hard for the ordinance.)

Many schools hesitate at bathrooms

November, 2015 | Public schools began to write policies requiring transgender students to use private changing and showering facilities, drawing complaints of discrimination.

South Dakota considers a ‘bathroom law’

February 2016 | The South Dakota Legislature approved a bill that would require public school students to use bathrooms and other facilities that correspond to their biological sex, defined in the bill as “a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.” Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, vetoed it. The Legislature announced in January that it would consider a similar bill.

North Carolina bans local anti-discrimination policies

March 23, 2016 | Meeting in special session, North Carolina legislators passed a wide-ranging bill known as House Bill 2 barring transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that did not match their biological sex. Republicans unanimously supported the bill, while in the Senate, Democrats walked out in protest. “This is a direct affront to equality, civil rights and local autonomy,” the Senate Democratic leader, Dan Blue, said in a statement.

The bill’s passage prompted the N.B.A. to withdraw this season’s All-Star Game from Charlotte and led the N.C.A.A. to move playoff games in several sports — including first- and second-round games in its most prominent event, the Division I men’s basketball tournament — out of the state.

The federal government issues guidelines

May 12, 2016 | The Obama administration took up a legal fight with North Carolina over the issue, quickly issuing guidance — signed by Justice and Education Department officials — that was sent to all school districts, outlining what schools should do to ensure that no student was discriminated against. The letter did not have the force of law, but it contained an implicit threat: Schools that did not abide by the Obama administration’s interpretation of the law could face lawsuits or a loss of federal dollars. The measure attracted criticism and support from across the country.

A split emerges between Southern cities and states

Cities in the Deep South were increasingly at odds with their states on gay rights and other benchmarks, moving toward common ground with big cities on the coasts. And North Carolina, the rare Southern state that is evenly split between liberals and conservatives, was considered to be up for grabs in the November presidential race. But backlash against the law roiled the governor’s race and affected other crucial contests.

A ruling in Virginia

April 19, 2016 | A federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., ruled in favor of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student who was born female and wanted to use the boys’ restroom at his rural Virginia high school.

Criticism from Candidate Trump

April 22, 2016 | As the Republican presidential front-runner, Donald J. Trump said that transgender people should be allowed to use whatever bathroom they feel most comfortable with. At a town hall-style event, he said that North Carolina’s legislation had resulted in an exodus of businesses and “strife” from people on both sides of the issue. “You leave it the way it is,” he said. “There have been very few complaints the way it is.”

Judge bars enforcement of guidelines

Aug. 21, 2016 | A federal judge in North Texas blocked the Obama administration from enforcing guidelines intended to expand restroom access for transgender students across the country. In his ruling, which he said should apply nationwide, Judge Reed O’Connor said the government had not complied with federal law when it issued “directives which contradict the existing legislative and regulatory text.” The Trump administration has decided not to challenge the injunction in court.

California requires gender-neutral bathrooms

September 2016 | Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill requiring all single-toilet bathrooms to be gender neutral, effective March 1, the first such state legislation in the country.

Texas considering legislation

Jan. 5, 2017 | A bill revealed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings and public schools and universities based on their “biological sex,” overruling any contrary local rules, and raising the prospect of a new confrontation with college sports officials and professional sports leagues.

Trump reverses Obama rules

Feb. 22, 2017 | President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, overruling his own education secretary. In a joint letter, the top civil rights officials from the Justice and Education Departments rejected the Obama administration’s position that nondiscrimination laws require schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice.

With Mr. Trump’s decision, the focus shifts to the Supreme Court, where Mr. Grimm’s 2016 lawsuit is scheduled for oral arguments at the end of March.