Berkeley Rotary Peace Grove


Ed Roberts


Ed Roberts contracted polio at the age of fourteen in 1953, two years before the Salk vaccine put an end to the epidemics. He spent eighteen months in hospitals and returned home paralyzed from the neck down except for two fingers on one hand and several toes. He slept in an iron lung at night and often rested there during the day. 

He attended school by telephone hook-up until his mother Zona insisted that he go to school once a week for a few hours. He has credited his mother with teaching him by example how to fight for what he needed.

Ed Roberts is often called the father of the disability rights movement. After attending the College of San Mateo he was admitted to the University of California, Berkeley. He had to fight for the support he needed from the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to attend college because his rehabilitation counselor thought he was too severely disabled to ever get a job. 

The need to serve the wider community 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. Ed returned to Berkeley to assume leadership of the fledgling organization. He guided the CIL's rapid growth during a decisive time for the emerging disability rights movement. The CIL provided a model for a new kind of community organization designed to address the needs and concerns of people with a wide range of disabilities.

In 1976, newly elected Governor Jerry Brown appointed Ed Roberts to be Director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. In1983 he returned again to Berkeley where he co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Judy Heumann and Joan Leon. There are hundreds of centers for independent living around the world based on his original model.J