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Remembering the Father of Independent Living

Picture of Ed Roberts

Like so many people of his generation, Ed Roberts (born January 23, 1939) contracted the polio virus when he was a teen. He survived the illness, but to get around Roberts used a wheelchair, and at night he slept in an iron lung to help him breathe. Roberts was bright and did well in school. As a high school senior he discovered he would not be allowed to graduate. He was missing what the school considered a core class. Driver's education. Roberts fought with the school and the school board until they agreed to let him walk with his classmates, high school diploma in hand.

Roberts attended community college in California, and then was admitted to UC Berkeley. Berkeley learned that Roberts had disabilities and tried to rescind his admission. He convinced Berkeley to honor their offer. Robert's fight provided space for many other students with disabilities.

Roberts and his friends realized that people with disabilities needed a voice. They started the first Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972 in Berkeley. Staff were people with disabilities helping others advocate for themselves, breaking down barriers for all persons with disabilities.

CILs sprung up across the nation, and across the globe. Society's Assets is a Center for Independent Living, founded in 1974 in Racine. Roberts was instrumental in the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. He is widely considered the father of the independent living movement, which upholds his values of advocacy and barrier removal to this day. Roberts died in March of 1995, five years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), legislation which resulted from his tireless dedication.