Revolution Highlights

Policy Highlights Index 1970-present

Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990

The following are brief biographies of several important leaders of the disability rights movement. They were written by Jonathan Young. Young is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Project Director for the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) Research Center.


Justin Dart
Judy Heumann
Ed Roberts
Evan Kemp
Pat Wright
Paul Longmore
Frank Bowe



Few people in the disability rights movement understand the power, importance, and nature of grassroots organizing as well as Justin Dart. For over two decades he has been an advocate for justice, civil rights, and human potential in the United States and the world. In addition to their time, Justin and his wife Yoshiko have dedicated much of their financial resources to the betterment of people with disabilities. They have crossed the country sponsoring forums for a variety of campaigns, including advocacy for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Through their efforts, thousands of "discrimination diaries" became part of the evidence used to justify the ADA.

Born to wealth and prestige (his father eventually became a member of President Reagan's "Kitchen Cabinet") Justin had a difficult adolescence, and traces the beginnings of his "good days" in life to contracting polio at the age of 18, which left him without use of his legs and required use of a wheelchair. Around the same time he exposed himself to the philosophy of Gandhi, which gave him confidence that he could take responsibility for his life. In 1951, at the age of 21, he entered the University of Houston. Throughout the latter 1950s and the 1960s, with the support of his Executive Assistant and later wife Yoshiko Saji, Dart became a successful businessman in the U.S. and around the world.

Dart visited a Vietnamese institution for children with polio during the Vietnam War, and saw malnourished children packed into a shed infested with flies, urine, and feces. He responded by pledging his life to reform and devoted six years to philosophical reflection and introspection in the mountains of Japan. Dart and Yoshiko returned to Texas from Asia in 1978, soon after which Dart began his career in disability advocacy, participating in the Texas Governor's Committee on the Handicapped, the National Council on the Handicapped, the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the President's Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities, the ADA Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of People with Disabilities, and a multitude of local and national demonstrations.

Dart recently received recognition from President Clinton in the form of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. Dart immediately removed the medal to bestow it upon his wife Yoshiko and insisted that it belonged to everyone in the disability rights movement.


After contracting polio at the age of 18 months, in 1949, Judy Heumann faced numerous obstacles in gaining a decent education. Barred from the public school because she used a wheelchair (a "fire hazard"), Heumann relied on home instruction and then finally attended a segregated school for people with disabilities. She began organizing her fellow classmates before she was even 10 to discuss ways that they could improve their lot. Heumann also earned the loyalty of her peers by assisting many individuals with greater mobility restrictions in tasks such as eating.

With the support of dedicated parents who formed their own organization to fight for their kids, Heumann and several friends eventually made it to a public, non-segregated high school. Heumann enrolled at Long Island University in 1965 and majored in secondary education. Although she excelled in her coursework, college administrators denied Heumann a teaching certificate. Heumann responded with a lawsuit, and won. In addition to going on to be a public school teacher in New York, she used the media attention surrounding her litigation to form an important, cross-disability organization: Disabled in Action. DIA was explicitly political in orientation and focused on such issues as transportation and architectural accessibility.

Heumann obtained a Master's in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. After serving as an assistant to Senator Harrison Williams, she became Deputy Director of Berkeley's Center for Independent Living, begun under the leadership of Ed Roberts. She worked to advocate the philosophy of independent living around the country and the world. Her international interest culminated in the 1983 co-founding of WID (World Institute on Disability). Since 1993, Heumann has served the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), where she oversees a budget of roughly $7 billion. Ms. Magazine was certainly correct in identifying her as one of the "women to watch" for the 1980s.


Ed Roberts has come to symbolize the Independent Living movement and its impact on American society. Roberts was behind the opening of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley in 1972, for which he was Executive Director until late 1975. CIL, in turn, became a model program for fledgling centers around the country and profoundly shaped the development of independent living.

The beginnings of Roberts's career in disability advocacy may be traced to his entrance into the University of California at Berkeley in 1962, at the age of 25. Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down because of polio, which also required resting in an "iron lung" for many hours each day. Although many people with extensive mobility restrictions now attend colleges, it was a revolutionary concept in the early 1960s. Unaccustomed to accommodating students like Roberts, the university housed him in the third floor of Cowell Hospital, where he was aided by friends and attendants with eating and dressing. Despite being segregated from the rest of students, Roberts excelled in his studies, and obtained a master's degree in political science.

Roberts's success opened the doors for other people with similar impairments. By 1967, 12 students who called themselves the "Rolling Quads" had joined Roberts. One outcome of their brainstorming sessions about how to improve their self-sufficiency was the creation of the federally-funded Physically Disabled Students' Program (PDSP), a program to enable disabled students to maximize their independence through counseling, personal attendant referrals, and wheelchair repair. CIL emerged from PDSP as an attempt to carry the university program's mission into the community.

After leading CIL from 1972 to 1975, Roberts became the Commissioner of California's Department of Rehabilitation, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. Roberts was now the chief of an agency which many years before had denied him rehabilitation services, because they considered him "unemployable." He used the authority of his position to advocate independent living throughout the state of California. This in turn attracted the attention of Congress, which held hearings about independent living in Berkeley and then passed legislation in 1978 to develop independent living centers around the country.

After Brown left office, Roberts joined Judy Heumann and Joan Leon to found the World Institute on Disability in 1983. A year later he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur ("Genius") Fellowship in recognition of his human rights work. Later in the 1980s Roberts helped found Disabled Peoples' International, an organization dedicated to uniting disability organizations from around the world. He traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia to promote international disability awareness. Roberts died in 1995.


Evan Kemp was a key link for the disability community to George Bush and his administration during the 1980s and the ADA deliberations. During the 1970s, as a Washington attorney, Kemp struck a close friendship with (and found a long-time bridge partner in) C. Boyden Gray, Bush's Chief Counsel. Kemp's friendship was indispensable to Gray for understanding disability when the Reagan administration considered weakening disability-related regulations in the early 1980s. Through this process Kemp also developed a friendship with Bush, who began asking Kemp to write his speeches for disability-related events. Bush secured Kemp an appointment as a commissioner for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Reagan administration. In 1990, Bush named him Chairman of the EEOC. President Bush's impassioned support of the ADA was crucial for the ADA's eventual success. Kemp was on the podium for the signing of the ADA in 1990.

Evan Kemp was born in New York City in 1937. At the age of 12 he began having symptoms of muscle weakness, and eventually learned that he had Kugelberg Weylander Syndrome, a rare form of muscular dystrophy. After graduating from University of Virginia Law School with honors, Kemp received rejections from 39 different law firms. He finally obtained a job with the Internal Revenue Service, and subsequently the Securities Exchange Commission. Discrimination persisted. After being denied promotion to a supervisory position because he used a wheelchair, Kemp successfully sued the SEC.

Kemp left the government in 1980 to lead the Ralph Nader-sponsored Disability Rights Center. In addition to battling the Reagan administration's deregulatory efforts, Kemp wrote a series of articles and appeared on television and radio to protest the Jerry Lewis Telethons, which maintained debilitating stereotypes of people with disabilities as child-like, pitiable, unemployable, creatures. He also developed close ties to grassroots disability organizations such as ADAPT and joined a variety of disability rights campaigns.

After leaving EEOC in 1993, Kemp founded Evan Kemp and Associates, a business dedicated to providing products and services that enhanced the lives of people with disabilities. Kemp died in 1997 of conditions unrelated to his disability. He is honored, among other ways, through an annual presentation of the Evan Kemp Entrepeneurship Award by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.


Pat Wright's leadership during the ADA's passage eventually earned her the nickname "The General." She was one of a handful of leading strategizers based in Washington, DC, and worked especially closely with Ralph Neas, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Wright and Neas collaborated with a number of other leaders who focused on different objectives for passing the ADA: Washington lobbyists Liz Savage and Paul Marchand; Grassroots organizers Justin Dart and Marilyn Golden; and attorneys Arlene Mayerson, Chai Feldblum, and Robert Burgdorf.

Wright originally planned to be a medical doctor. During medical school in the 1960s, however, she developed a progressive eye disease that eventually left her legally blind. Being prevented from realizing her aspirations was devastating, and Wright was temporary aimless. But she found a new interest in assisting persons with disabilities move from institutions to community-based living. This also gave her an intimate knowledge of how legal technicalities affected the lives of persons with disabilities. Wright made her first major inroads to the disability rights movement at the Section 504 sit-in in San Francisco in April, 1977. Although she was there largely to serve as a personal assistant to Judy Heumann, Wright began to reveal and develop her negotiation skills in dealing with authorities. This experience led her to become more involved with advocacy. In the late 1970s she joined DREDF, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, where she worked with Robert Funk, Mary Lou Breslin, and Arlene Mayerson to advocate for disability rights on a national level.

In addition to sponsoring training sessions in disability rights, Wright and DREDF formed a crucial working relationship with Ralph Neas and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights by collaborating on such legislative initiatives as the Civil Rights Restoration Act. Such efforts earned Wright a place on LCCR's Executive Council. Wright was so widely respected in Congress and the White House that her highly individual apparel and colorful vocabulary were safe from reproach. The ADA's success was due in no small part to Wright's strategic leadership.


Paul Longmore is one of the leading scholars of disability studies and one of only a small but growing cadre of historians studying disability. He is currently Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University, where he also serves as Director of the newly-established Institute on Disability. Although Dr. Longmore is widely known in the disability community for his extensive publication and speaking on disability, his original specialty is in early American history. His book, The Invention of George Washington (University of California Press, 1988) studies Washington as a political actor and the conscious way in which he shaped his public image. In addition to early American history and disability history, Dr. Longmore has taught courses in U.S. intellectual and cultural history and political theory.

San Francisco State University's Institute on Disability is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. It has a multi-disciplinary objective. It aims to develop a more comprehensive disability studies curriculum, launch community service projects, and support disability-related research projects, including assistive technology, that will have local, national, and international impact. Dr. Longmore brings considerable experience to his role as Director. From 1983 to 1986, he served as the administrator of the Program in Disability and Society at the University of Southern California, a pioneering disability-studies project.

Like many people with disabilities, Longmore originally distanced himself from issues of disability and disabled individuals. His interest in disability as an academic subject did not come until he neared completion of his Ph.D. in history from the Claremont Graduate School in 1984. Since then, however, Dr. Longmore has published widely on the history of the disability rights movement and the representation of people with disabilities in the media. He is also a leading voice in advocating an academically-respected field of disability studies. Dr. Longmore's expertise has been called upon by ABC's Nightline, ABC's World News Tonight, NBC's Today Show, and National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, as well as in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, McCall's, and TV Guide. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, an H.B. Earhart Foundation Research Fellowship, and the Claremont Graduate School Alumni Award.


Dr. Frank Bowe has led a diverse career as disability activist and leader, government administrator, businessman, and scholar. He is currently Professor in the Counseling, Research, Special Education and Rehabilitation Department at Hofstra University. Since 1995 he has also been the Special Education Coordinator at Hofstra. Before joining the faculty at Hofstra in 1989, Dr. Bowe served as a Regional Commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services Administration, a position to which he was appointed by Justin Dart. From 1984 to 1986 he was the Chairman of the U.S. Congress Commission on Education of the Deaf.

In the disability community, Dr. Bowe is perhaps best known for his leadership as Executive Director of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities from 1976 to 1981. He was the organization's first executive officer (Eunice Fiorito was the first President), and provided crucial direction during the nation-wide sit-ins regarding Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1977. Subsequently, Dr. Bowe helped ACCD achieve gains in housing, transportation, and special education.

An expert grant writer, Bowe's writing has also fostered the growth of the disability rights movement, including : Coalition Building: A Report on a Feasibility Study to Develop a National Model for Cross-Disability Communication and Cooperation (1978) and Planning Effective Advocacy Programs (1979). Rehabilitating America: Toward Independence for Disabled and Elderly People (1980) was a pioneering analysis of disability in America. All told, Dr. Bowe has written 30 books, including studies of personal computer design, social policy on age and disability, demographics, and public interest advocacy.

For over two decades Bowe has been a consultant to the U.S. Congress on a variety of issues. In 1992, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the President for his lifetime achievement. In 1994, he was inducted into the National Hall of Fame for People with Disabilities. Hofstra University presented him with the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1996. Dr. Bowe is named in Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in American Education, Who's Who in Computing, and Who's Who in Public Relations.


Click for fullsize image and description

(See also: RESOURCES)