Never heard of Ed Roberts? You should, and I would love to share a little about a man who did so much for the equal rights and opportunities of so many.
“I contracted polio when I was fourteen. I had a serious fever, and within 24 hours, I was paralyzed and in an iron lung. Within earshot, my mother asked the doctor whether I would live or die. "You should hope he dies, because if he lives, he'll be no more than a vegetable for the rest of his life. How would you like to live in an iron lung 24 hours a day?" So I decided to be an artichoke...a little prickly on the outside but with a big heart. You know, the vegetables of the world are uniting, and we're not going away!” Ed Roberts not only lived he went on to found the Center for Independent Living movement and much, much more.
Roberts worked hard, and fought to breathe outside of the iron lung, but he did. He studied hard and made good grades but was denied a high school diploma because he did not “pass” drivers education and PE. His mother would not let that go and went before the school board to fight for his rights. She won and he was granted his diploma before going off to University of California at Berkley.
Roberts, who was the first student at Berkeley with a severally disabled who relied on a wheelchair when he arrived in 1962, faced into many obstacles when he arrived on campus, mostly the lack of accessibility for him. But his mother’s fighting spirit was flowing in him and he would not let anyone or anything stop him. The lack of accessible housing and classrooms did not stop him from earning a B.A. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1966, both in political science. His disability did not stop him from falling in love, getting married and having a son in 1976.
Ed Roberts taught in Berkeley’s political science department for six years. Then he went on to found the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972. Independence, Inc which was founded in 1978 is our local CIL, and along with many others across the county and the world are modeled after Robert’s vision.
Centers for Independent Living were founded to advocate for all people with all disabilities. It is a philosophy of self-determination, self-respect, employment, and equal opportunities. This includes elder care and deinstitutionalization. Replacing special education with normalization and inclusion, instead of isolation and reliance on others, or the government.
In 1975, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Roberts director of the Department of Rehabilitation, a position he held until 1983, when he co-founded the World Institute on Disability. From their website, “The mission of the World Institute on Disability (WID) in communities and nations worldwide is to eliminate barriers to full social integration and increase employment, economic security and health care for persons with disabilities. WID creates innovative programs and tools; conducts research, training, public education and advocacy campaigns; and provides technical assistance.”
Roberts continued to fight for the rights of people with disabilities all over the world until his death in 1995 at the age of 55 only five years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. His legacy continues today with an international center on disability that houses the Center for Independent Living on the campus of UC Berkley and the organizations that emerged from it like Independence, Inc. all of which are dedicated to the full integration of people with disabilities in society. If you are a Facebook user, I encourage you to go to our page and watch a video I posted of Mr. Roberts on 60 Minutes there.
Independence, Inc is a local nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people with disabilities through advocacy, peer support, training, transportation, community education to live life independently. Brenda Brown is the Director of Development and Marketing for Independence, Inc.