1939 - 1995
Ed Roberts was a charismatic leader in the independent living movement who championed the rights of people with disabilities. Then he contracted polio, his doctors told his family that he would be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Ed later recalled this edict, saying “If I’m a vegetable, I’ll be an artichoke, prickly on the outside, with a big heart in the middle.”
Ed was a brilliant student and with the support of his mentors and his mother, Zona Roberts, he applied to the University of California, Berkeley, which had never accepted a severely disabled student. He was accepted, somewhat accidentally, and arrived on a campus totally unprepared to accommodate him. Because he used an iron lung, he was housed in the campus hospital, where he was joined in following years by other students with severe disabilities.
Ed learned of a Federal funding opportunity for special programs on college campuses and led an effort to gain funding for a physically disabled student program at Cal. This program helped disabled students live independently in dorms or the community, and was the model for the formation of the Center for Independent Living (TheCIL) in 1968. Ed became Executive Director of TheCIL in 1974 and in 1976, he was appointed the State Director of Vocational Rehabilitation by Governor Jerry Brown. He became an influential and revered advocate for people with disabilities, and in 1983, received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, which he used to help establish the World Institute on Disability.
In his work and life, Ed firmly believed in empowering others to be advocates and activists. In this spirit, The CIL is pleased to recognize and honor those individuals who, like Ed, have made major contributions to the success of the independent living and disability rights movement in the US and internationally.