Reflecting on Ed Roberts' life and legacy --RSS Feed

By Brian Peters, Community Access & Policy Specialist
Spend any time in the Independent Living Movement, and you’ll quickly learn about Ed Roberts, a pioneering disability rights advocate. While Justin Dart is considered the “Father of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the title of “Father of the Independent Living Movement” goes to Ed Roberts.

Portrait of Ed Roberts
Portrait of Ed Roberts by Patrick Wm. Connally.
Roberts contracted polio at the age of 14 in the early 1950s, just two years before the Salk vaccine was introduced. After 18 months in hospitals, he returned home paralyzed from the neck down except for two fingers on one hand and some toes. He slept in an iron lung at night. He recalled hearing a doctor scoffing at his mother’s statement that Ed was lucky to be alive, saying, “How would you like to live your life in an iron lung?”
Roberts credits his mother for teaching him how to fight for what he needed, such as battling the high school administrator who tried to deny him his diploma because he had not completed driver’s education and physical education. After attending a community college, he was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, he and other students with disabilities who were later admitted to the university became the “Rolling Quads” and began advocating for greater access to the campus. They advocated for things like curb cuts, the creation of a student-led disability services program and much more.

Throughout his life, Roberts fought for greater accessibility, including the enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability and was the precursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act.  

There is a legendary tale of Roberts being told by a rehabilitation counselor from the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation that he could not attend college because he was “too severely disabled to ever get a job.” Roughly 15 years later, Roberts was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to become the Director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. He became the director of an agency that had once told him he couldn’t work! He also later co-founded the World Institute on Disability.

Although Roberts is believed by many to have founded the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) and to have been its first Executive Director, he was neither. It was the student-led disability services program that he founded that became a model for the CIL. But he did eventually become the Executive Director and guided the growth of the Berkeley CIL as many people with disabilities were becoming more and more active in advocacy nationwide.

To this day, hundreds of CILs around the country, including IndependenceFirst, are based on the first CIL in Berkeley that Roberts directed. 
Ed Roberts Day is a great day to get more involved in advocating for equal access for people with disabilities. We are always looking for new people to join our four consumer advocacy teams. Call us for more information about the teams or other advocacy opportunities, 414-291-7520 V/Relay. 

| Tuesday, 1/23/2018 - 11:47 AM | 0 comments
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