January 23 is Ed Roberts Day. Roberts, often referred to as “the father of the Independent Living Movement” became a legend in the Disability Rights Movement due to his persistence and successful advocacy work. 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 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 them to move out into the broader community which eventually led to the creation of the first Center for Independent Living. This was the first independent living service and advocacy program run by and for people with disabilities.