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"I was going to community college, and I had a wonderful advisor. Her name was Jean Wirth. She was six-feet-nine. Her father was a doctor, and her whole upbringing she had been treated by him and his colleagues as a medical anomaly. She had even had an operation where they cut and removed part of her leg bones to shorten her, so she understood what disability was about, first hand. When I told her that I wanted to study political science, she told me I should go to Berkeley. This was in 1962.

"I went to the Department of Rehabilitation and tried to get some help. The counselor, who had a disability himself (he couldn't use one arm), gave me a test to take. Later, he told me, 'Well, this test shows that ... you're very aggressive.' He said it as if it were some kind of negative thing. 'Well, if you were paralyzed from the neck down, don't you think that aggressiveness would be an asset?' He told me that it was unfeasible for me to ever work.

We jumped all over him, we got it out to the papers, and they helped me. But I remember, that evening, I had a dream. I dreamed that some day I would be the head of the Department of Rehabilitation, and the policies would be changed so that people with the most severe disabilities would be served first.

"And thirteen years later, [Governor] Jerry Brown hired me as the Director. That was during the protest against HEW. The head of HEW was trying to get Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act pared down. The longest takeover of a federal building in history was staged. For 45 days, protesters held the HEW offices in San Francisco."

Ed Roberts
Ed Roberts