In 1952, after Ed Roberts contracted polio, the doctors told his family he’d probably spend the rest of his life as “a vegetable.” Later, Roberts joked, “If I’m a vegetable, I’m going to be an artichoke, prickly on the outside, with a big heart in the middle.” With a combination of big heart, sharp words, and ferocious commitment to equality, Roberts helped create the disability rights movement as we know it today.
In 1962, Ed Roberts decided that he would attend UC Berkeley, even though they had no accommodations for people with severe disabilities. His ad hoc solutions soon made it possible for other disabled students to attend, paving the way for the creation of the Physically Disabled Student’s Program (PDSP) and then the Center for Independent Living. Similar movements were beginning in other parts of the country. The PDSP was so successful that they extended its benefits to Berkeley more generally, making it one of the most accessible places in the world. Roberts soon became California’s Director of Rehabilitation – the same department that had refused to help him go to college because they believed he would never be able to work.
By 1972 he had helped found the Center for Independent Living, which furthered a nuts-and-bolts approach to solving the problems of people with disabilities, including help in modifying cars and vans to enable them to drive. A referral service was organized to develop a pool of reliable aides to help disabled people bathe, eat and dress. The group campaigned to remove provisions of Federal laws that discouraged the disabled from working.
Ed Roberts also led campaigns demanding access to public transportation and seating aboard buses and trains, and he helped found the World Institute on Disability in 1983.
Ed Roberts was born on January 23, 1939 and died on March 14, 1995. He was 56 years old.
This article is adapted from the Google Doodle that is honoring Ed Roberts 78th birthday today. If you want to read more about Ed Roberts and the disability rights movement the Google Doodle link is: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/VwLy4PBo_Ty9Jg?utm_campaign=ed-roberts&utm_source=google&utm_medium=hppromo
(image description: Ed Roberts is sitting in a chair shaking hands with a person who is holding a mobility cane for a person who is blind. In the upper left hand of the picture are the words, we can support each other, we learn from each other. A quote by Ed Roberts. In the lower right side of the picture is the words January 23 Ed Roberts Day. In yellow are the words Mentoring For Change. Below that is the website www.YODisabledProud.org/EdRobertsDay)