Chapter 19. DREDF and the 504 Trainings
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339 19 DREDF and the 504 Trainings By the late 1970s what had been almost entirely separate streams of disability rights activism had begun to flow together, with a synergy few could have predicted less than a decade before. Here, again, the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley was a critical nexus, not only as a catalyst for other independent living advocates across the country but also in founding what was to become the nation’s preeminent cross-disability legal practice and public policy think tank. Activists at Berkeley in the mid-1970s had already started the Disabled Paralegal Advocacy Program (DPAP)—an office within the CIL staffed almost entirely by volunteers—to work on behalf of CIL clients. It soon became clear, however, that what was needed was an organization with a national focus that was both cross-disability and civil-rights oriented, to litigate or offer assistance in cases with the potential to impact disability rights case law (reported judicial decisions used as precedent by the courts in interpreting the meaning and scope of written law) and, ultimately, to help craft and lobby for passage of additional national legislation.1 A major step was taken in 1978, when the CIL received federal funding to convert the DPAP into the Disability Law Resource Center (DLRC), which in turn received funds from the Legal Services Corporation. The DLRC grew rapidly, from a staff of eight volunteers to more than forty-five paid employees , but it continued to be a part of the Center for Independent Living, with as much a local as a national focus. Finally, in 1979, the attorney Robert Funk and activists Mary Lou Breslin and Patrisha Wright cofounded the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, or DREDF, as an independent nonprofit national law and policy center, analogous to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund. Bob Funk became its first executive director. Meanwhile, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare had invited proposals for programs to train advocates with disabilities about their rights under 504. Three different organizations set up what came to be known as “the 340 chapter 19 504 trainings”—workshops conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s—designed not only to educate people about this provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 but also to introduce political advocacy to an entire generation of disability rights activists and organizers. DREDF took the lead in designing these workshops, and together with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (where Thomas K. Gilhool had already made a reputation as the chief litigator of PARC v. Pennsylvania) and Barrier Free Environments (founded by Ron Mace, the architectural access guru, in Raleigh, North Carolina), it created a cadre of thousands of trained activists that was to prove invaluable as the movement fought to keep what it had won and build on its mounting successes. Mary Lou Breslin (continued) “That basic shift in how you look at the issue—that’s what we did.” Having earned a degree in sociology from the University of Illinois in 1966, Mary Lou Breslin pursued graduate studies at Roosevelt College in Chicago and the University of Oklahoma, Norman. She left school in 1971 and worked as a psychiatric social worker, a peer counselor, and a tutor. Breslin moved to Berkeley in 1972, where she became coordinator of the Disabled Students’ Placement Program at the University of California and with others at the CIL was an organizer of the 1977 HEW occupation. Breslin, Patrisha Wright, and Robert Funk founded DREDF in 1979. Initially deputy director, Breslin became director in January 1987 and today is a senior adviser with DREDF and one of the nation’s leading disability policy advocates. She has taught at UC Berkeley and the University of San Francisco, and has written widely on disability topics, most recently on health care equity for people with disabilities. Bob Funk walked in, historically, when he should have walked in. Bob wanted to do public interest law. He walked into Phil Draper’s office at CIL, and Phil had all these federal Requests for Proposals on his desk and didn’t know what to do with them. Phil gave them to Bob, and that’s it. Bob sat down and in two months wrote about $1 million worth of grants and got them all. dredf and the 504 trainings 341 That was a really important moment. The Legal Services Corporation , which funded all the legal aid offices around the country, was not convinced that disability was...


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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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