Exercise: Ed Roberts, Disability Rights Activist
For more than 40 years, Ed Roberts fought for the rights of people with disabilities. He was a well-known disability rights activist and father of the independent living movement. Roberts was a gifted storyteller who led the charge for independence and inclusion for people with disabilities. Though he died 15 years ago, Roberts’ words have stood the test of time and are as relevant today as they were then.
- Listen to Ed Roberts share his experiences with the first Partners in Policymaking class in 1987. Or if you prefer, read an excerpt of his speech below.
- Read each question below.
- Select the answers you think are correct.
- Click the Submit button.
Now, my mother, we had to learn to fight together because there were so many people around with their little narrow rulebooks who were always willing to say “No!” It was so amazing to me. I know those of you with a disability or are a parent must run into that a lot. Whether you want your son or daughter to go to regular school, or have this kind of problem... people find a way to say no. And sometimes when they’re in a large bureaucracy, it seems so cold and it seems so difficult to be able to fight them.
And one of my first struggles was I went to graduate from high school and I was immediately told that I couldn’t graduate because I didn’t have driver training and P.E. And well, to say the least, it ____ you off. I was the number two student in school, and I’d done all my academic requirements. My mother, she said something like, “well, we’ll prop you up behind the wheel and I’ll run the wheel.” You know, she got very sarcastic with this guy.
And he looked right at me and basically patronized me, he said: “You wouldn’t want a cheap diploma, would you?” He said some really cold stuff, and aside from feeling so humiliated, working so hard and feeling like I’d earned it, at the same time feeling like I wanted to kill the guy—both my mom and I.
And so what we did, first we threw the guy out of the house because he had to come to me—which is a very interesting phenomenon, I think more of us should do that. And secondly, we said, “hey, how can we change this decision?” And we went to the school board. It was no problem at the school board. All we had to do was say, “Hey look, this is an injustice.” In every way I’d earned my degree. And I got the first diploma of all students with disabilities at that school.
But it was a very important thing for me and my mother, fighting together. It was like a landmark for me, first of all. I don’t think I could have done that alone, at all. And both of us were terrified. Oh boy, were we afraid—not that we’d lose, but it’s scary going up against authority. It is! It takes a lot to be able to do that. And there was no question once they heard. I was given my diploma. You know, what that did for me, that and the other small fights that we learned how to fight together, it gave me the confidence to fight for myself. And I think that’s why I’m here right now, in a lot of ways, because I learned how to fight. I learned that if I was to be free, if I was going to be independent, if I was going to lead my own life, then I had to fight for it. And the other thing I learned is that when you start fighting, it encourages a lot of others to do it, too.
1. What made Ed Roberts a good advocate?
2. What situation prompted Roberts to become an advocate?
3. Roberts sometimes used humor to get his point across. Is this a good idea?