January 23 is Ed Roberts Day. Roberts is often referred to as “the father of the Independent Living Movement” because of his persistent and successful advocacy work for disability rights beginning in the 1960s. As a result of contracting Polio when he was eight years old, Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down and required the use of an iron lung to assist him with breathing. He started advocating for his rights at a young age when his high school threatened to deny him a diploma because he had not completed driver’s education and physical education.
From high school, Roberts went on to college and was eventually enrolled at the University of California–Berkley where his advocacy work really blossomed. He organized a group of students with disabilities on campus to form a students’ disability rights group known as the “Rolling Quads.” Their success in advocating for disability rights on campus soon inspired the Rolling Quads to move out into the broader community which eventually led to the creation of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (CIL)—the first independent living service and advocacy program run by and for people with disabilities.
Advocacy continues to be the cornerstone of the Independent Living Movement. CILs throughout the country have adopted the phrase, “Nothing about us, without us,” which reflects the deeply held principle that people with disabilities should be included in, and central to, discussions and policy making pertaining to disability.
Ed Roberts is one of many dedicated disability rights organizers who have paved the way to a greater awareness of disability rights within the framework of civil rights. It’s rarely just one person who makes change happen. You can be an important part of effecting meaningful change in your community, or the broader community, by working with advocacy groups, contacting your local, state or national representatives, joining committees that create policy, or simply showing up at committee meetings to add strength to the voices of others.
Disability Network’s Advocacy Groups
Disability Network Southwest Michigan facilitates two disability advocacy teams which are open to anyone to participate in.
- The Access Team works on projects that improve accessibility for people with all types of disabilities and educates businesses and community leaders about barriers to full inclusion. This group meets at our Kalamazoo office on the 2nd & 4th Wednesday of each month, 12:30–1:30.
- The Transportation Advocacy Group (TAG Team) monitors the day-to day service of public transit in Kalamazoo County to ensure that it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This group meets at our Kalamazoo office on the 2nd & 4th Wednesday of each month, 11:00–Noon.