Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Ed Roberts, Activist

This section of the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities Web site is dedicated to the life, work and legacy of Ed Roberts, a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement.

Two Geniuses, One Wheelchair and an Audacious Plan to Swim with the Whales

Drawing of Ed Roberts atop a boat surrounded by sea life

Ed Roberts was a world traveler. He let nothing stop him from seeing what he wanted to see, places he wanted to visit, and adventures that he wanted to make and talk about. In 1984, when Ed was being honored as a MacArthur Fellow for his work as the leader of the American independent living movement, whale conservationist Roger Payne was being honored for his discoveries of whale songs. Following a ceremony in Chicago, the two began a conversation and relationship that eventually led to Roger navigating the ocean with Ed so Ed could have his wish – to swim with 30-ton humpback whales – come true.

Read the Story »

We Won't Go Away

Ed Roberts 1984 We Won't Go Away

In honor of Ed Roberts Day and his pioneering leadership in the disability rights movement, and in recognition of the many individuals who played a role in the movement, We Won't Go Away documents a critical period in the history of disabilities in getting Section 504 regulations released.

Read a first person account of the federal government sit-in in 1977: Jeff Moyer's  Story

We Won't Go Away Part 1

We Won't Go Away Part 2

Produced in Great Britain by Patricia Ingram with narration by Rosalie Wilkins.

Ed Roberts Family Album

Ed Roberts Family Album

Ed Roberts' son, Lee, was asked to share images from his dad's early life. He was able to visit with family members and lifelong friends of his dad. This Family Album slide show is designed to show memorable photos of Ed as a toddler, a young child, a baseball enthusiast, on the campus of UC Berkeley with his two brothers, at his wedding, and as a new father.

Lee felt this was the right time to share these family photos. The captions are his captions, in his own words. We are grateful to Lee for providing this family album with Ed's large circle of friends.

View the photo album >>

Lee Roberts and Dr. William Bronston: Interviews at the California Hall of Fame Induction of Ed Roberts

Lee Roberts and William Bronston
Lee Roberts and William Bronston

In conjunction with the 2011 California Hall of Fame Ceremony in Sacramento, California, Ed Roberts' son, Lee, and Ed's colleague, Dr. William Bronston, shared their memories of Ed.

Interview with Lee Roberts and Bill Bronston >>

A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts

Lee Roberts and William Bronston
Lee Roberts

Ed Roberts is well known and recognized as a leader with a mission but only a few people came to know Ed, the person. Through a series of stories, Lee Roberts offers glimpses into Ed's personal life, his passions and his beliefs.

Interview with Lee Roberts >>

Ed Roberts Day

On December 15, 2010 the United States House of Representatives declared January 23, 2011 as "Ed Roberts Day."

Text Version of the Ed Roberts Day Resolution   PDF Version of the Ed Roberts Day Resolution

Press Release: Miller's Legislation Recognizing Disability Advocate Ed Roberts Passes House
Text of US House Legislation Introduced by Rep. George Miller

In celebration of this day in 2017, we shared two new stories about Ed, as well as photos that offer additional glimpses into his life and his perspectives on the world as told by his son, Lee Roberts.


Ed Roberts' son, Lee Roberts, shares his recollections of an unforgettable trip with his father to Russia in 1992-1993.

Ed as a Kid: An Interview with Ed Roberts' Cousin, Kenneth McManigal, by Lee Roberts

Note from interviewer Lee Roberts, Ed Roberts' son: "Ken McManigal was my father's cousin, and he was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Ed Roberts as a kid. Not many people know about this part of Dad's life. I know I loved speaking with Ken about it, because I had never heard these stories before. I hope you all enjoy this small glimpse into my father as a child. Thanks, Ken, for sharing your memories." Read the Interview >>

Ed Roberts Inducted into the California Hall of Fame

The California Hall of Fame was created to recognize legendary Californians who have influenced the state, the nation, and the world. Ed Roberts joins nine other 2011 inductees, including Buzz Aldrin, Magic Johnson, The Beach Boys, Carlos Santana, and Amy Tan. The 2011 Exhibit opens December 9, 2011.

Montage of Ed Roberts Images


Ed Roberts (January 23, 1939-March 14, 1995) was the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He was a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement. Roberts contracted polio at the age of fourteen in 1953, spending eighteen months in hospitals and returning home paralyzed from the neck down.

Determined to live with a positive personal sense of disability identity, his activism began when he returned to school and needed to fight to receive his high school diploma, continuing through his attendance at Berkeley where he paved the way for other students with severe disabilities, who joined him in his efforts to advocate for changes to their treatment and services.

Ed Roberts

He became the head of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (CIL), the first independent living service and advocacy program run by and for people with disabilities. In 1976 California Governor Jerry Brown appointed him Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation, where he served until 1983. He returned to Berkeley and co-founded the World Institute on Disability.

Paintings by Patrick Wm. Connally

(Click on an image to view full size)
Ed Roberts Painting
Ed Roberts (2010)
Ed at CIL
Ed at CIL
Ed with Dolphins
Ed with Dolphins
Ed at the Bay
Ed at the Bay

Ed Roberts: A Remembrance and Leadership 'GPS'!

By William Bronston, M.D. January 16, 2011

He comes back first in sound bytes, the rhythmic pop and shush of his positive pressure breathing system he clenched in his teeth, used constantly, over time, as breathing came harder; the motor-whirring acceleration of his "high quad" power wheelchair when in motion; and the sighing wheeze when he adjusted his chair back down or upright at the touch of his mobile left middle finger to the chair-arm mounted toggle switch. The pumping air surge of the yellow cast-iron lung in which Ed spent evenings at home and slept, was another unforgettable audio cadence of friendship.

Polio, in his teen age, savaged Ed's striated muscle system, the motor muscles that we consciously control to stand, walk, breath, use arms and hands, and left a gawky, strikingly handsome, massively paralyzed, soon to be recognized as a limitless, human being at the mercy of society's stereotypes, fears and the emerging and unpredictable liberating revolution in new transistor and digital technology… Read the complete essay…

Ed Roberts

By David Goode, Professor of Sociology, City University of New York, January 24, 2011

I met Ed Roberts via a project I was coordinating for the Administration for Developmental Disabilities on Quality of Life and Disability. This was in 1985 and by then he was already a legend to many. I telephoned him because knowing of him, and what he and Judy Heumann were trying to do at the World Institute on Disability (WID), I thought he would be interested and supportive of what I was trying to do.

I explained to him that I was trying to do something different, something that had not been tried before. This was to take what was known in research about quality of life, generally, not with respect to disability, and use it to structure a discussion about quality of life and disability. I explained that I wanted to use this term to develop policy in the disability arena, and to involve "all constituents" in the discussion – policy makers, families who have children with disabilities, professionals in the area…  Read the complete essay…

"Ed and the Gang"

Ed and the Gang

1981 at North Bay Regional Center in Napa, CA.

Project Interdependence

Ed Roberts was the sponsor of Project Interdependence, an innovative, long-term economic development model to demonstrate public/private partnerships with California's youth for careers in science, the arts, recreation, and sports.

"The Quad Who Stood Up"

Documentary Video on Ed Roberts by Billy Golfus

Excerpts are viewable on the Billy Golfus YouTube Channel.
(Note: This is a link outside of Video on YouTube has not been captioned at this time)

The Quad Who Stood Up - Ed Roberts Documentary

Articles and Documents

Title File Author Source
Editor's Note 1_EditorNote.pdf Editor Mouth Magazine 2007
How to Live Longer 2_How2LiveLonger.pdf Ed Roberts Mouth Magazine 2007
The Tao of Ed 3_TheTaoOfEd.pdf Ed Roberts Mouth Magazine 2007
Our Man on the Moon 4_ManOnTheMoon.pdf Ed Roberts Mouth Magazine 2007
Independent Living:
Born on Campus
5_IL_BornOnCampus.pdf Ed Roberts Mouth Magazine 2007
Ed Roberts, at
Home and at Large
At_Home_At_Large.pdf Lydia Gans New Mobility, May-June 1994
A Conversation
with Ed Roberts, California Q&A
Conversation_with_Ed_Roberts.pdf Timothy Pfaff Retyped 7/03 from the California Monthly, February 1985
Consumer Unity Consumer_Unity_CA_VRS.pdf The Proceedings of a Working Conference of New and Established Consumer Leaders California Department of Rehabilitation
"Miller's Legislation Recognizing Disability Advocate Ed Roberts
Passes House"
Rep. George Miller
Text of House Legislation for "Ed Roberts Day" HR_Ed_Roberts_Day.pdf US House of Representatives  
Ed Roberts, Prophet of Independence/
Ed Roberts 1939 - 1995
Ed_Roberts2.pdf Justin Dart, President Bill Clinton, Judy Heuman  
Principles and Recommendations from the Quality of Life Project Principles_Recommendations_Quality-of-Life-Project.pdf David A. Goode  

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center, the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2301MNSCDD-02, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

This website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,120,136.00 with 83 percent funded by ACL/HHS and $222,000.00 and 17 percent funded by non-federal-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.