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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 7.21.11




Living Independently

The struggle continues for a basic civil right

By Mark Roberts

I write on July 4th, Independence Day.

About 200 years after we declared our freedom from the oppression of British rule and became the United States of America, the most far-reaching, biggest, civil rights movement began to exert profound influence. I say biggest because, unlike any other oppressed populace I can think of, YOU could become a member at any moment (you have an almost 90 percent likelihood to become a member before you die).

For millennia people with disabilities have been oppressed. Historically disempowered through segregation and driven by fear, millions have been relegated to back rooms or institutions, denied access to civil life or choice in the conduct of their households.

One milestone of this modern civil rights thrust is the Disability Rights/ Independent Living movement which began with the admission of my older brother, Ed Roberts, to the University of California at Berkeley. (Google his name to learn more of his influence and accomplishments).

Polio had left him paralyzed and unable to breathe without a respirator (the Iron Lung). He applied for, and gained admission to Cal. The headline of the Daily Californian read "Helpless Cripple Attends Cal.”

He did attend, graduate and teach political science at UC Berkeley but he turned out the opposite of helpless. His personal charisma, organizational skill, political power and world travel directly influenced and aided a billion potential clients, and as I mentioned, every one of us, probably.

He and the "helpless cripples” who quickly followed and who then graduated into the Berkeley community secured freedom to move freely about through the citywide program of curb-cuts and access for wheelchairs and others to public transportation.

They established the first Center for Independent Living, a peer-run advocacy organization that supports every client in addressing their personal need for choice in living a maximally free and productive life. There are 400 such centers in the U.S. now and many more internationally.

The movement grows: Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a major achievement after nationwide nonviolent actions and sit-ins at federal institutions. The next barrier to equality for "helpless cripples” is the most formidable and we could use your effort to help overcome, and dismantle this wall of discrimination.

Im on the board of directors for LILA, our Lane Independent Living Alliance. We are preparing a push to expand our already broad services and to better educate the public (especially our youngest students), in the knowledge, attitudes, language and etiquette of disability.

We are also preparing to expand our outreach to returning disabled veterans of war. If you have other ideas for programs to address needs call us at 541-607-7020.

Would you consider being on the Board of Directors of LILA? If so or not you are all invited to attend our "Celebration of Independent Living” from 11 am to 2 pm Saturday, July 23, at 990 Oak St. (two blocks from Saturday Market). There will be food, door prizes, a short (noon to 12:30 pm) presentation about LILA, and karaoke from 1 to 2 pm.

We will have applications to join the board if youd like to serve in that way. If we dont see you there, put Jan. 23, 2012 on your calendar. That day has been declared "Ed Roberts Day” by Congress and on that day we will be hosting educational events in the schools and for the public about my brother Ed and the Independent Living movement .

Mark Roberts is president of the board of Lane Independent Living Alliance, with offices at 99 W. 10th Ave. in Eugene. Visit www.lilaoregon.org or call 345-7021.