Thursday, February 7, 2013

Help Me Celebrate Ed Roberts

If you know me, or have read my book, you know I went to the University of California at Berkeley in 1974 through June 1975. It was not a long time, but my time in Berkeley changed my life. The week between Christmas and New Year's 1973, my dad flew with me to Oakland where we were met by the Physically Disabled Student Program's van (PDSP). the van already had two riders. They were Hale Zukas and Ed Roberts.

They were both actively involved in the Independent Living Movement on and around the  campus. I just read an article about Hale who is still active in the movement today.

However, we lost Ed in 1995. Ed Roberts was literally the first person I met when I moved to Berkeley. Little did I know what a huge impact he would have on mentoring me and becoming an international advocate for civil rights for people with disabilities. There is a nice piece on Ed's contribution to the movement on the's website. You may read it by clicking here. There is even a fully accessible building located in Berkeley called the Ed Roberts Campus which is home to several disability-oriented, non-profit organizations. You may learn more about it at their website by clicking here.

Ed and I became fast friends and spent a lot of time together watching sporting events including several baseball games, football games and the 1975 USA–USSR track meet. I talk about Ed and his influence on me in my book I Still Believe In Tomorrow and how much our friendship meant to me.

The reason the California Department of Rehabilitation is celebrating is it is its 50th Anniversary and they are making a list of their fifty most notable people in their history. Guess who the number one person on that list is?

When Ed first applied to go to school at Cal, he was denied entrance because he he did not get a high school diploma. He did not receive a diploma because he failed to take and pass two classes, physical education and driver's training. Through his persistence of never backing down or allowing the system to say no, he eventually earned an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley. He became the first student with a severe disability to ever be admitted and graduate from the University California at Berkeley! He certainly was an amazing, inspirational person!

Once Ed got in, that opened the doors to more students. At the time, I did not realize when I went out there the residence program I lived in the first year was only a few years old. Had I known that, now I wonder if I would have even gone. I tell people the second best thing I ever did was going to Berkeley. The inevitable question comes back then, "What was the first?" 

My response is always, "Coming back to Minnesota." 

Berkeley was a great place to go to school with an ever-expanding accessible campus, but I got homesick and came back to Minnesota where I eventually earned my bachelors degree in School and Community Health Education. 

I want to close this post after telling you one more Ed Roberts story. Besides helping to coordinate PDSP, form the first Center for Independent Living, of which there are about six hundred of them now around the country, he was also instrumental in forming the World Institute on Disability (WID). Its work is now reaching worldwide communities. Shortly after I left Berkeley, Governor Jerry Brown named Ed to head California's Department of Rehabilitation. I have always found great irony in the fact the department that once refused to help pay for his college education was later being run by him.

Here is a picture of Governor Brown making the appointment:

Click on the image to make it larger:

As always, I look forward to your comments.




Earl Hipp said...

Amazing both the power of a mentor in a life and the difference just one passionate make can make in the world.

Thanks for this story. It fires me up!

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