Ed Roberts, the Disability Rights Movement and the ADA

This exhibit celebrates just some of the many groups and people who made the ADA possible, explores how and why it was passed, and concludes by looking at some of the major challenges we’re facing now. The ADA changed America, but there is a lot of work left to be done.

PART ONE: Disability Rights History Before the ADA
Ableism – the oppression and discrimination against people with disabilities – has always been with us. Despite centuries of isolation, segregation, violence, incarceration, and institutionalization, people with disabilities have always existed and have always resisted.
In 1952, after Ed Roberts contracted polio, the doctors told his family he’d probably spend the rest of his life as “a vegetable.” Later, Roberts joked, “If I’m a vegetable, I’m going to be an artichoke, prickly on the outside, with a big heart in the middle.” With a combination of big heart, sharp words, and ferocious commitment to equality, Roberts helped create the disability rights movement as we know it today.
In 1962, Ed Roberts decided that he would attend UC Berkeley, even though they had no accommodations for people with severe disabilities. His ad hoc solutions soon made it possible for other disabled students to attend, paving the way for the creation of the Physically Disabled Student’s Program and then the Center for Independent Living. Similar movements were beginning in other parts of the country.