restricted access Chapter 25. Insiders, Part 1
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444 25 Insiders, Part 1 -   People with disabilities, as has been noted before, belong to an “open minority,” that is, anyone can acquire a disability at any point in his or her life, no matter what that person’s social or economic status. This fluidity can work against the efforts of disability rights activists to organize their constituency, since it means there is generally no shared culture or consciousness implicit in the simple fact of having a disability. It can also, however, be an advantage, as certain individuals with disabilities have access to centers of political influence that are usually unavailable to people in other oppressed minority groups. These individuals, then, connected by family or friendship to large fortunes or impressive political connections, can mobilize these resources for the community. Evan Kemp Jr. was one such individual, born in New York City to “old money.” Diagnosed at age twelve with Wohlfart-Kugelberg-Welander syndrome , or Kugelberg Welander spinal muscular atrophy, a disease related to polio, Kemp began using a wheelchair after an accident as an adult—the direct result of being refused reasonable accommodations—while working for the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was close friends with C. Boyden Gray, conservative attorney, member of the Federalist Society,1 and a confidant of then Vice President George H. W. Bush. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Kemp a commissioner at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). When President George W. Bush appointed EEOC chairman Clarence Thomas to the federal bench, Kemp took Thomas’s place. Kemp’s position inside the political establishment enabled him to play a crucial role as a bridge between the ADA coalition, C. Boyden Gray (who by that time was White House Counsel), and President G. H. W. Bush. insiders, PART 1 445 Janine Bertram Kemp “In Washington, nothing happens by accident.” Janine Bertram Kemp, Evan’s wife during the campaign to pass the ADA, came from a background far removed from old money and political insider status. She made her first effort as a disability rights advocate a little more than a decade before she became involved with the movement. “There was a woman named Janet Fox with CP who was my brother’s age, graduated at his high school the same year he did. I ended up getting to know her, and then ran into her years later in Seattle, where I lived. This was probably 1974 or ’75. We went out to eat, and they threw us out of the restaurant because of her cerebral palsy. They said their customers didn’t like drooling. “I was appalled at that level of discrimination. And so I called the media contacts I had, we went home and made a few signs and held an impromptu picket in front of the restaurant.” Disability as an issue of civil rights may have been new to her, but this was hardly Janine’s first experience as a political activist. Born in November 1950 in Tacoma, Washington, she came of age during the political and social tumult of the sixties, and participated in the radical politics of the time. Starting as an activist “with a progressive peer-to-peer counseling service called the Tacoma Rap Center, I moved to Seattle and organized Coyote, which was organizing hookers and trying to decriminalize prostitution.” Bertram’s politics led her to “go underground, join the George Jackson Brigade,2 and become a revolutionary. This was the era of Patty Hearst and ‘Give Them Shelter’ and the Weather Underground and all of that.3 I ended up with a group that did bombings. I drove the getaway car in four bank robberies . We called them ‘expropriations.’ I set a pipe bomb in a safe deposit box at Rainier Bank.” Bertram’s life underground lasted a year and a half. She was arrested in 1978, and served fifty-two months of a ten-year federal prison sentence. On her release in 1982, she went to college in Arizona to study American Indian law and policy, then moved to the San Francisco Bay area to work with Prison MATCH (Prison Mothers And Their Children), an organization she’d helped to start while in prison. In 1984, she went to Washington, DC, to raise money for the program, where she met her future husband, disability rights leader Evan Kemp. 446 chapter 25 “Evan was running the Disability Rights Center, which had been started by Debbie Kaplan and Ralph Hotchkiss. When Debbie and Ralph moved to the Bay...


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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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