Ed Robert's Independence Movement

Thursday, January 26, 2017

On the Monday of last week, Google’s Doodle portrayed Ed Roberts, the Father of the Independent Living Movement, on what would be his 78th birthday. We wanted to spotlight Ed’s lifetime journey as an activist for people with disabilities. He fought for their right to fully participate in society with the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their own lives as do people without disabilities.


Imagine the impact of being blocked from gaining your high school diploma because you did not complete driver’s education and physical education. Despite his early struggles contracting polio at age 14, Ed later became the first student with significant disabilities to attend the University of California Berkeley and became the founder of UC’s Physically Disabled Students Program. This program then became a model for the first Center for Independent Living along with over 400 other independent living centers across the country.

The Independent Living Movement was closely tied to the Civil Rights struggles during the 1950s and 1960s among African Americans. Issues that involved disgraceful treatment based on stereotypes in housing, education, transportation, and employment were addressed with similar strategies and tactics toward the disabled. This movement focused on problems or “deficiencies” in the society, not the individual. People with disabilities no longer saw themselves as broken or sick. These individuals were empowered by making these important medical decisions themselves and not by the rehabilitation professional.

There were at least five movements that influenced the Independent Living Movement:

  • Deinstitutionalization – more people with developmental disabilities were out of institutions and back into their home.
  • Civil Rights – disabilities were not included as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act.
  • Demedicalization – began to look at more holistic approaches to health care.
  • Consumerism – idea of control by consumers of goods and services over the choices and options made available to them.



National Freedom Day is an observance that honors the signing of a resolution that proposed the 13th amendment of the nation’s constitution by President Abraham Lincoln. The amendment was made to outlaw slavery. For the remainder of February, take the time to appreciate the journey of those who fought for our rights and freedom of today.

Continue to make choices towards changing the world for the better – even if it’s one day at a time. Look at how Ed’s efforts have grown the support for people with disabilities in today’s society. At the beginning of the Independence Movement, support groups and agencies were scattered and universal design was not yet implemented in architectural design. Activists worked to challenge the status quo and bring understanding of disability rights and universal access. Thus
Ed Robert’s Campus was built dedicated to disability rights and universal access. Universal design should be the next strategy to green design. Functional and adaptable to people using those as opposed to having the people adapt to its design.

Leanne Leuterio

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