Honoring Ed Roberts, One of The Greatest Civil Rights Activists

Honoring Ed Roberts, One of The Greatest Civil Rights Activists

In 2010 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into a law a bill by Senator Loni Hancock that declared January 23rd of every year Ed Roberts Day. Senate Bill 1256 Ed Roberts Day became law on July 19, 2010. The bill designated January 23rd (Ed’s Birthday) as “a date having special significance in public schools and educational institutions, and would encourage those entities t conduct suitable commemorative exercises.” The declarations in the bill highlight some of Mr. Roberts incredible civil rights advocacy efforts and accomplishments. Among the highlights was the protest at UC Berkeley led by the self-named “Rolling Quads” in which Mr. Roberts organized and led a group of students with disabilities to protest the loss of what little services they had at the time. This groups of students went on to advocate to major change on the campus that included accommodations and services and supports for students with disabilities such as removing physical barrier to access and providing personal attendant services so that students could live independently. Their efforts led to the creation of the Physically Disabled Student Program at UC Berkeley which was the first in the nation of it’s kind.

Last week my good friend Stephen Dale, and Board Member for The Arc of CA, sent an email to a small group that detailed his account of the first time he met Ed Roberts. I read it a few times and deeply appreciated Steve’s candor about how Ed had challenged everything he thought he knew about disability. Though I never had the privilege to meet Mr. Roberts his life’s work has certainly influenced much of the advocacy that continues today. I would like to thank Steve for sharing his memories with us as I truly appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the influence Mr. Roberts has had on many great advocates.

A tribute from Steve:

“Ed would share all sorts of stories about how the public either relates to persons with disabilities as objects, and at the other end of the spectrum as super-cripples with superior powers to compensate for their disabilities. This puts a lot of pressure on many persons with disabilities because they are expected to do aspirational feats to inspire others. The lesson in his stories is that persons with disabilities are just people in most cases with the same desires and the same weaknesses as anyone else. Like any other civil rights movement, we will conquer our racial prejudices when we all as a society relate to others as people and not by the color of their skin. Rights and opportunities that the non-disabled take for granted have yet to be achieved despite a lot of movement forward – there is much more to do. True disability rights will be achieved when we as a society see persons with disabilities as people – no better – no worse – than you or me. 

So in honor of Ed, please take some time and learn about his remarkable life. Ed Roberts Day is a good way to teach not only about disability rights, but more importantly about the value of relating to persons with disabilities as people, not as objects of our compassion.”

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