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About Ed Roberts

By: Scott Burlingame, Executive Director

On Monday, January 23, 2017, Independence, Inc. will join other Center’s for Independent Living and Disability Rights Activists in celebrating Ed Roberts Day.

Ed Roberts, the father of the national independent living movement, spent his life challenging societal expectations of people with disabilities and encouraging people with disabilities to take charge of their lives, and to leave a life of poverty, pity and dependency behind.

Roberts contracted polio at the age of fourteen in 1953. He spent eighteen months living hospitals. When he finally returned home, he was paralyzed from the neck down, with the exception of two fingers on one hand and several toes. He slept in a negative pressure ventilator, also known an iron lung, and was forced to swallow air using facial and neck muscles during the day.

However, Roberts insisted on participating in his own life and in his community. While attending the University of California, Berkeley, he formed student groups that insisted on positive expression of disability identity. This eventually led to formation of the first student-to-student led disability services program in the country.

After college, Roberts led advocates to create the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (CIL), the first advocacy program run by and for people with disabilities. Today, there are over 300 CIL’s and CIL satellite offices across the country.

In 1976, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Ed Roberts Director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), despite the fact that that VR had once claimed Roberts was too severely disabled to work. After leaving his post at VR, Roberts co-founde d the World Institute on Disability.

Independence, Inc. Center for Independent Living is proud to continue the work started by Ed Roberts. Like R oberts, we believe people with disabilities should take control of their own lives and that our public policy priorities should encourage independence and accessibility. We work every day to help people with disabilities achieve their independent living goals and to make our community a better place to live, work and play for people with disabilities.

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