"Before I was the California Rehabilitation Director, I went to the University of California at Berkeley. When I first began talking with the administration, they told me, 'We tried cripples, and they don't work.' I was adamant about going there. It was 1962; I had to sue them to get in. The same semester James Meredith was escorted into an all-white classroom, I was rolling into a Berkeley classroom.
"They didn't know where to put me. The dorms weren't accessible, and we had to find a place that would accommodate my 800-pound iron lung. They finally decided that I could live in a certain ward of Cowell Hospital, on the edge of campus. Soon there were a bunch of us at Berkeley. It was an exciting time. The protests and student movements were rising all around us, and we were right there. John Hessler and I used to roll right up to the front of the demonstrations and stare down the police. What could they do? When they threatened to arrest us, we just asked them, 'How are you going to get us there? Do you have an iron lung in your prison?' That's one drawback of the ADA, I guess, because they didn't have accessible jails or accessible transportation back then, which meant they didn't arrest us.
"I encourage everyone to go out and get arrested. Not just for anything, but for the cause, with ADAPT for example. Getting arrested for what you believe in can really change your perspective; it can strengthen your resolve. I also encourage everyone to go out and buy Saul Alinsky's book Rules For Radicals.
"I learned a lot from the women's movement. They used to let me go to their meetings; I guess they saw a connection between our experiences. I remember them talking about how to deal with stereotypes. I realized that disability is actually a strength. If someone comes up to me and doesn't look me in the eye, if all they see is my ventilator and my chair, I can tell right away."