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A Legacy of Independence and Empowerment

Ed Roberts in a wheelchair, using a breathing tube

Every year on January 23rd, we celebrate Ed Roberts Day to honor the life and legacy of a remarkable individual who changed the lives of countless people with disabilities. Ed Roberts was not only a pioneer in the disability rights movement but also a symbol of determination, resilience and the power of one person’s advocacy to create a lasting impact. 

The Life of Ed Roberts

Roberts was born on January 23, 1939, in San Mateo, California. At the age of 14, he contracted polio, which left him paralyzed from the neck down, dependent on a wheelchair and a ventilator to breathe. Despite the significant physical challenges he faced, he was determined to lead a life of independence and dignity.

In the early 1960s, Roberts became one of the first students with a severe disability to attend the University of California, Berkeley. His presence on campus not only challenged prevailing stereotypes about people with disabilities but also paved the way for others to pursue higher education. He fought for accessible facilities, personal assistance services, and the right to live on campus. 


Together with fellow students with disabilities, he established the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (CIL) in 1972, marking the birth of the independent living movement.


The Significance of Ed Roberts Day

Ed Roberts Day is celebrated each year, not only to honor Ed Roberts’s birthday but also to commemorate his groundbreaking work in advocating for the rights and independence of people with disabilities. This day serves as a reminder of the progress made in disability rights and the ongoing struggle for full inclusion and equality.

One of the key principles of the independent living movement, which Roberts championed, is the belief that people with disabilities should have the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. This movement has led to significant changes in policy and legislation, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and promotes accessibility in all aspects of life.

Roberts’s legacy reminds us that change is possible and that together, we can create a more inclusive society for all. As we celebrate Ed Roberts Day, let us continue to work towards a more inclusive and accessible world, where every individual, regardless of their abilities, can live with dignity, independence and equality.

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