No list of inclusion pioneers would be complete without mentioning Ed Roberts.
Known as the Father of the Independent Living Movement, Roberts was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California-Berkeley, and a pioneering leader of the Disability Rights movement.
Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down after contracting polio at fourteen, causing him to rely on a respirator during the day and an iron lung at night.
His career as an activist started early, when his high school administrator tried to withhold his diploma because Roberts hadn’t completed driver’s training and physical education.
Roberts continued to face discrimination and accessibility obstacles when he entered the University of California.
However, Roberts refused to accept this discrimination, and ultimately went on to earn his bachelor’s a and master’s degrees. During that time, Roberts rallied his fellow students to organize and form their own self-help group, the Physically Disabled Student’s Program–the first student-led disability services program in the country.
Eventually the PDSP began getting calls from people with disabilities needing support who were not students, inspiring Edwards to think even bigger.
And in 1972, he helped found Berkley’s Center for Independent Living. The center specializing in provided nuts-and-bolts assistance to problem-solving for the day-to-day challenges faced by people with disabilities, such as vehicle modification, home-aide referral services, etc., with a focus on empowering people to living independently with dignity and self-determination.
In 1975, Edwards was appointed to head California’s State Department of Rehabilitation, where he served as director until 1983. Following his tenure, he joined forces with activists Judith Heumann and Joan Leon to found the World Institute on Disability, and internationally renowned nonprofit “that works to fully integrate people with disabilities into the communities around them via research, policy, and consulting efforts.”
Roberts traveled the world to raise awareness of the independent living philosophy–even winning a MacArthur Grant–until he died at the age of 56 from cardiac arrest.
A true pioneer of inclusion, Roberts work continues to live on through the World Institute on Disability, the 28 independent living centers across California, and the countless lives his work inspired and and improved.
If you’d like to support inclusion of children with disabilities, please consider making a gift of $56 in honor of Ed Robert’s life and legacy.