LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT, 2019
In 1979, Gerald Baptiste joined TheCIL, still a fledgling organization at the time, as a peer counselor with its Blind Services Department. Gerald was working as juvenile counselor for the Alameda County until he lost his sight rather suddenly in 1964.
It had taken him years to learn about the various community resources available to blind folks and how to take advantage of such resources. Gerald wanted to help ensure that other visually impaired people received useful information and guidance about accessing the existing supports (and creating new supports) that they needed to retain and increase their independence. And Gerald did just that, and before long he found himself coordinating all blind services for the agency. Gerald's programmatic contributions to TheCIL soon expanded beyond services specific to the blind community.
For example, Gerald took a leading role in overseeing our Residential Access Program, which provides low-to-moderate homeowners and renters with home modifications (such as wheelchair ramps and grab bars) to render their living environments more accessible and which is a program that continues to serve Berkeleyites and others today. In fact, it was Gerald who hired Margie Cochran to coordinate the Residential Access Program. And now, some twenty years later, Margie continues to run the program.
Designing and delivering services is how Gerald got his start at TheCIL, but it may have been as an advocate and as an ambassador to the community where Gerald had his most profound impact on TheCIL and those we serve. Early in his career at TheCIL, Gerald noticed that some segments of the disability community were not adequately included in the Independent Living Movement that TheCIL was helping to lead. Gerald developed and implemented strategies and approaches to better outreach to particularly disadvantaged or marginalized people with disabilities, such as the elderly and lower-income minorities, and to more effectively encourage them to get involved in peer-based services and systems change advocacy. Gerald's efforts laid the groundwork for the intersectional and culturally competent manner in which TheCIL approaches outreach, service delivery, and advocacy.
By 1989, Gerald had become TheCIL's Deputy Director, and advocacy became his primary focus. Gerald spent years traveling the State and the nation to help build support for the then-proposed Americans with Disabilities Act, meeting with policymakers and community members and fellow advocates to educate people about the importance of civil rights legislation to help end discrimination against those with disabilities. He was present at the White House when the bill that he (and many others) had worked so hard for was signed into law. Post-ADA, Gerald continued to advocate strongly on various disability issues, and on behalf of TheCIL, he led efforts to secure support and funding for the Ed Roberts Campus, Berkeley's transit-oriented hub for cross-disability social services.
Gerald's sentiments are as relevant today as they were when he joined TheCIL back in the 1970s. Along with people such as Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann, Gerald is truly a pioneer in the field of disability rights and independent living, and we are thrilled to be honoring him for his decades of service to the disability community here in the Bay Area and beyond.