Ed Roberts and the Americans with Disabilities Act Legacy

The following blog was written by Sam Xu and Heather Yaden from our Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) Team Berkeley. Sam is a youth leader and Heather serves as the adult partner for the team.

ADA Tour Bus with text "The Road to Freedom" printed on the sideOn November 25th 2014, the ADA Legacy Tour Bus made the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA one of its first of many stops on a year-long tour celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect place to honor the history of this achievement than the sidewalk curb-cut outside the building named for an essential founder of the modern disability rights movement.

The Ed Roberts Campus is currently home to about a dozen organizations dedicated to supporting the personal and professional development of people with disabilities. Ala Costa Adult Transition program (ACAT) has been a member of the Ed Roberts Campus community since 2012 when we first rented an office on the second floor. ACAT is a program that provides training for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to develop the skills necessary to move towards a more independent adulthood and a life of self-advocacy and empowerment.

Two of ACAT’s students, Sam and Brandon, are part of NCWD/Youth’s Youth Action Council on Transition (YouthACT) – a program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) that trains transition-aged youth with disabilities to become community leaders and advocates. Part of their training inspired Sam and Brandon to begin working on a project centered on the life and legacy of Ed Roberts. Sam and Brandon speak frequently to students, schools, and service providers about the history of the disability rights movement and one of its central figure.

Ed Roberts was an important civil rights activist who fought for people with disabilities to have the rights, equal opportunity, and fundamental freedoms that form the foundation of the ADA. He was born in California on January 23rd, 1939 and contracted polio when he was 14. He became paralyzed from the neck down and needed to spend much of his time in an iron lung. Despite a severe lack of accessibility and the discouragement of deans and counselors, Ed Roberts attended the University of California, Berkeley. Other disabled students began attending the University based on his precedence, and together they began organizing under the name the “Rolling Quads.”

Ed Roberts became an important name in the disability rights movement when he and the Rolling Quads created the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972. He went on to be appointed as the director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and co-found the World Institute on Disability (WID) in 1983. Both CIL and WID are now world-wide organizations that provide advocacy resources, information, and services to hundreds of thousands of people. These organizations were of the first to describe the tenants of equal opportunity and accessibility that the ADA is grounded in.

Group of Youth in front of ADA Tour Bus

The CIL of Berkeley, WID, and Department of Rehab all have offices at the Ed Roberts Campus. Ed Robert’s legacy is alive and well here in an accessible and vibrant community that reflects Roberts’s energy. When the ADA tour bus arrived at Ed Roberts Campus on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, ACAT students saw the boldly designed bus parked right outside the front door. There was a large group of people from the Berkeley and greater Bay Area disability community gathered around the bus all day – socializing and providing information for visitors. Ambassadors from the tour gave us booklets, key chains, and temporary tattoos with the message, “Disability Rights are Civil Rights” – a sentiment we think Robert’s would have approved of.

YouthACT is a part of NCWD/Youth’s youth development and leadership work, which is a critical component in the transition to adulthood for all youth including youth with disabilities. NCWD/Youth has several resources available to support youth in their successful transitions: 

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