restricted access Chapter 11. Independent Living
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197 11 Independent Living In 1962, Ed Roberts, finishing his second year at the College of San Mateo, decided to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley. Because none of the dormitories were wheelchair accessible (and none could accommodate the “iron lung” he needed at night), Roberts moved into Cowell Hospital, the campus infirmary. His presence attracted media attention (most notably, an article in the San Mateo Times with the headline, “Helpless Cripple Attends U.C. Classes”), which in turn drew other students with disabilities to the campus. Unlike the program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where students with disabilities were expected to define their disability in terms of the rehabilitation model, the students at Berkeley early on began to develop a political consciousness that redefined their issues as social, not simply individual , problems. San Francisco was, of course, the epicenter of the counterculture of the 1960s, with the civil rights and campus free speech movements feeding directly into the antiwar turmoil of the mid- to late sixties and early seventies. Throughout the last half of the decade Berkeley was the scene of student strikes, demonstrations, and civil unrest. It was not uncommon, as more than one disability activist remembers, to see police and students clashing on campus. In such an environment, it was perhaps inevitable that the students at Cowell would come to see their own issues politically. One result of this new awareness was the formation of the “Rolling Quads”— an advocacy group pushing for campus and community access—and the opening in 1970 of the Physically Disabled Students’ Program (PDSP), a pilot project fundedthroughwhatwasthenthefederalDepartmentofHealth,Education,and Welfare (HEW). As word of the PDSP spread, people with disabilities in the surrounding community who weren’t Berkeley students began to avail themselves of its services, which included help finding accessible housing and personal care assistants, wheelchair repair, and rudimentary paratransit where no accessible public transit existed. In addition, students who graduated from Berkeley or 198 chapter 11 otherwise left school continued to need and use the PDSP. And so PDSP students began meeting with these consumers to plan the next phase, and in March 1972 the Center for Independent Living, Inc. (CIL), was established. The Berkeley CIL was the spark for what grew by the end of the decade into a national movement with its own defined “independent living philosophy.” At its core was the then-radical notion that people with disabilities were the experts on their experience and could best decide for themselves what services they needed and how to use them. Many of its early proponents, such as Ed Roberts, Hale Zukas, Donald Galloway, Kitty Cone, Gerard Baptiste, Corbett O’Toole, and Mary Lou Breslin, became national and even international figures. Activists in other parts of the country, including Fred Fay and Elmer Bartels in Boston, Judith Heumann in New York, and Max and Colleen Starkloff in St. Louis, heard about the CIL and used it as a model for their own communities, or—as in Heumann’s case—moved to Berkeley to work with the center directly. In 1977, Berkeley CIL activists carried out the most daring and effective civil disobedience action for disability rights of the decade—indeed, perhaps up to that time—the sit-in at the San Francisco offices of the HEW. The CIL’s Disability Law Resource Center, founded in 1978, split off a year later to become the independent Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), cofounded by Patrisha Wright, Mary Lou Breslin, and attorney Robert Funk, its first director. DREDF in turn played a central role first in opposing the Reagan administration’s attempts in the early 1980s to scale back the gains made by the movement in the 1970s, and then in getting federal disability rights legislation passed in the late 1980s, most notably the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The independent living model fostered by the Berkeley CIL was so successful that by 1995 there were more than four hundred IL centers throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, Australia, Japan, Central and South America, and in several nations of the former Soviet Union. Ed Roberts (continued) “Within a day or so I realized, I can do this. I can be free.” Ed Roberts, transfering to UC Berkeley, experienced all the trepidation and excitement of a young person leaving home for the first time, along with the independent living 199 additional feelings that went with living those first weeks and months...


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Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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