Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Celebrating Ed Roberts, Disability Advocate

Ed Roberts Google Doodle

On Jan. 23, 2017, the featured Google Doodle in the US was a cartoon drawing celebrating the 78th birthday of Ed Roberts. Ed was born Jan. 23, 1939 and died March 14, 1995 at the age of 55. During his life, he was a notable disability rights advocate.

Ed was “severely disabled from polio which he contracted as a teenager. He had virtually no functional movement and was dependent on a respirator to breath[e]” (ilusa.com). Ed, the first student with significant impairments to attend UC Berkeley, was inspired by the social justice movements of the 1960s and 70s, and he went on to start the self-help “movement that would radicalize how people with disabilities perceived themselves” (ilusa.com). In a letter to Gini Laurie in 1970 Ed stated, “I’m tired of well meaning noncripples with their stereotypes of what I can and cannot do directing my life and my future. I want cripples to direct their own programs and to be able to train other cripples to direct new programs. This is the start of something big—cripple power” (ilusa.com).

Photo of Ed Roberts
Among many notable achievements, Ed “was awarded a MacArthur fellowship; and he was co-founder and President of the World Institute on Disability” (edrobertscampus.org). He also inspired a world of disability rights advocates, and the Ed Roberts Campus was created in his honor. The idea for the Campus came shortly after his death, and is a “universally designed, transit-oriented campus located at the Ashby BART Station in South Berkeley. The ERC houses the offices of the collaborating organizations as well as fully accessible meeting rooms, a computer/media resource center, a fitness center, a cafĂ©, and a child development center” (edrobertscampus.org). It is 80,000 sq. ft. and is a beacon of universally accessible design featuring a helical ramp, accessible elevators, automatic doors, wide corridors, restrooms for people with all abilities, specially designed signage, and hands-free sensors and timers among other innovations.

Interior of Ed Roberts Campus 
I imagine Ed would be proud of the ERC, and he should as well be happy with the fact that he has inspired so many people with disabilities to take life by the reigns. Even if people don’t know about Ed, surely they have been impacted by the disability rights movement. Cheers to Ed and a happy belated birthday!


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