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Disability History: People Who Have Made a Difference

Disability History: People Who Have Made a Difference! features stories of people in their own homes, lives, families, communities, states, nations or the world who have made a difference (as), (with) or (for) people with disabilities.

For a quick link to disability history of your choice, click on the person below.

New Sign Stella Young - 1982-2014

The disability movement has lost a dedicated advocate from Melbourne, Australia. Stella Young was a comedian, former ABC's editor for Ramp Up, a disability website, and an advocate. She performed at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2014 in a one woman show called "Tales from the Crip." Stella was born with a congenital bone disorder, Osteogenesis imperfecta. She advocated for people with disabilities to be allowed to live their lives. At seventeen she realized, "That I was not wrong for the world I live in. The world I live in was not yet right for me. She continued through her work and her humor to change misconceptions about disability and change legislation in Australia. See her Ted talk: Inspiration porn and the objectification of disability, Sydney, Australia, 2014, link through this article on The Australian.

New Sign Carrie Ann Lucas (November 18th, 1971-February 24, 2019)

From Carrie Ann Lucas's facebook page she describes herself as disabled, disabled mom, and mom to several disabled kids, lawyer, activist, amateur photographer, lover of camping and travelling. This article best describes the life of Carrie Ann Lucas, a woman who was a disability activist and actively represented parents with disabilities and her many advocacy challenges and accomplishments. She was born in Windsor, Colorado and had many occupations as a teacher, ordained minister and legal assistant before becoming an attorney. "In 2005, she was awarded a prestigious Equal Justice Works fellowship to create a program to combat discrimination that impacts parenting for parents with disabilities. This program, initially started within the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, spun off to be Disabled Parents Rights, one of the only organizations in the country devoted to this issue." Throughout her life she advocated for the rights of people with disabilities. She was an advocate and legal assistant for the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. An advocate for ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. In 2017 she fought to save the Affordable Care Act. She fought hard against physician assisted suicide and the notion that life with a disability is not worth living, although this passed in Colorado despite her efforts. "She demonstrated every day how amazing life with a disability can be. She was given the Intersectionality Award from The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in 2016. She was a leader in passing HB 18-1104 which changed Colorado law to make sure that disability was no longer a reason to remove a child from a parental home." She adopted 4 children with disabilities and worked for them to be a part of their community. She faced a ration of her insulin from an insurance company the last month of her life and this is an example of the outcome of working between Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, where patients are not given what they need.

Terry Fox running in Marathon with prosthetic leg and car in background


"Terry" Fox (July 28, 1958 - June 28, 1981)

"Marathon of Hope" - Canadian humanitarian, athlete, and cancer research activist, person with right leg amputation.

Andrew ("Drew") I. Batavia (June 15, 1957 January 6, 2003)

Disability rights activist, health policy researcher, author, and associate professor at Florida International University. Batavia became disabled at 15 from an accident that left him with a spinal cord injury. He eventually received law degrees from both Stanford and Harvard and from 1990 to 1991 was a WhiteHouse fellow, special assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, writing regulations to effectuate the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. He was active throughout his life in disability advocacy. His memoirs were found by his family posthumously and were published in 2015, Wisdom from a Chair.

In the preface Batavia wrote: "My mission in this world is to try to ensure that all people, including people with disabilities, have greater choices in and control over their lives. I believe that achieving this mission will make the world a slightly better place than it was before I got here." p. xvii

Christopher Reeve (1952-2004)

"When we have hope, we discover powers within ourselves we may have never known. Once we choose hope, everything is possible." - Christopher Reeve, an American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author and activist, husband, father and a person with cervical spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. He is founder of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation which is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research, and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information and advocacy.

Teddy Pendergrass (1950-2010)

"There is a need to assist those with SCI (Spinal Cord injury) to become or return to being productive members of society." - American R&B/soul singer and songwriter, founder of the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, an organization for people with Spinal Cord Injury, - a person with parapalegia.

Stephen Hawking, 1942-2018

'Obviously, because of my disability, I need assistance. But I have always tried to overcome the limitations of my condition and lead as full a life as possible. I have traveled the world, from the Antarctic to zero gravity." - -

We pay tribute to Stephen Hawking who passed away this month. He was a British born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and was Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge.

He did groundbreaking work in physics and cosmology and his books have helped to make science accessible to everyone.

Stephen was diagnosed with ALS, a form of Motor Neurone Disease, shortly after his 21st birthday. He used a computerized communication device and a wheelchair and continued his life with family, work, scientific discoveries and travel and public lectures. He used humor often in his lectures and conversations and is quoted as saying, "Keeping an active mind has been vital to my survival, as has been maintaining a sense of humor."

"My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn't prevent you doing well, and don't regret the things it interferes with. Don't be disabled in spirit as well as physically."

Evan J. Kemp, Jr. (1937-1997)

Evan J. Kemp, Jr. was a leader in the passing of the American Disabilities Act in 1990 with Justin Dart, Sandra Parrino And Rev. Wilke. He was a lawyer, a husband and a person with a physical disability who eventually suffered an accident to his legs and used a wheel chair. In 1959 he graduated from Washington & Lee University and the University of Virginia Law School. He had graduated near the top of his class and believed that he would be hired, but after 37 job interviews he was not hired. He took a government job but became disheartened by the treatment of people with disabiities and in 1980 became director of the Disability Rights Center. He was Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in 1990. He was first named to the commission under President Reagan in 1987. He became a republican to try to get the ADA legislation passed, befriending politicians with the agenda of a disability mission. He worked to educate national policy makers on the importance of equal opportunity and self-determination for people with disabilities. New York Times article

Justin Dart with POWER pamphlet, American Flag in background

Justin Dart, Jr. (1930-2002)

"Get into politics as if your life depended on it. It does." - - - This is the most famous quote from the man given the title, "Father of the American Disabilities Act." For more information, visit this article from Disability History, Justin Dart: Activist

Alberta Lessard

New Sign Alberta Lessard - 1921-2015

The disability movement has lost a dedicated advocate. In the early 70s, Alberta Lessard challenged the system on mental health commitment laws and changed, through the US Supreme Court, the laws across the country to provide more protection for individual patients such as rights to legal representation, a timely hearing, a jury trial and cross-examination of witnesses.

Alberta is absolute proof that one person can make a difference. She was an awesome, loving, caring, forgiving, special friend of one of the active members of New Horizons Un-Limited. She will be missed. [Photo credit: jsonline.com]

Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009)

On August 11, 2009, the disability community lost a great champion of those with intellectual disabilities, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. A long time advocate for children's health and disability issues, Shriver was a key founder of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and spearheaded the movement towards nationalizing the Special Olympics. To learn more about the life's work of this remarkable woman, visit Eunice Kennedy Shriver: One Woman's Vision online at www.eunicekennedyshriver.org.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States from 1933–1945. In 1921, before he became President, while on vacation in New Brunswick, Canada, Roosevelt contracted an illness diagnosed then as polio (historians are unsure whether it was polio or a different infectious disease) which resulted in permanent paralysis from the waist down. After he became President, he helped to found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now known as the March of Dimes). In private, he used a wheelchair, but he was careful never to allow the press to picture him or appear in public unless he was standing up supported on one side by an aide or one of his sons.

Helen Keller (1880-1968)

American author, lecturer, political activist, person with both visual and hearing impairment who was known throughout the world. Helen Keller campaigned for women's suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and for people with disabilities especially for those with visual impairment. Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her father, Arthur H. Keller served as a captain for the Confederate Army and was an editor for the Tuscumbia North Alabamian. At 19 months old she contracted an acute illness that affected her sight and hearing. Her parents acquired an instructor, Anne Sullivan, who taught her sign language and eventually became her governess and companion. Helen Keller was the first person with both visual and hearing impairment to graduate with a bachelors degree. Keller graduated from Radcliffe College in 1904, at the age of 24. She read lips with her hands, used Braille and used sign language with her hands to communicate. She gave lectures and traveled the world. She was an advocate for people with disabilities, and in 1915 founded the Helen Keller International organization. She met U.S. Presidents and was friends with famous people that shared anti-capitalist views, such as Mark Twain and Charlie Chaplin. She published 12 books and several articles. Keller devoted much of her later life to raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind. On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the United States' two highest civilian honors.

Famous quotes:
Her social activism brough her to say, "My darkness has been filled with intelligence, and behold, the outerday-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness." Although Ms. Keller died in 1968, the "social blindness" she referred to unfortunately continues to survive in many places and certainly among many individuals. Part of the reason for this is the actual absence from mainstream societies of disabled persons. "The welfare of each is bound up in the welfare of all."

Of her disability she said, "I am just as deaf as I am blind. The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune. For it means the loss of the most vital stimulus -- the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of man."

Edgar Allen - (1862-1937) Tragedy Leads to Inspiration: The Story of the Easter Seals Organization

In 1907, Ohio businessman Edgar Allen lost his son in a streetcar accident. The lack of adequate medical services available to save his son prompted Allen to sell his business and begin a fund-raising campaign to build a hospital in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio. Through this new hospital, Allen was surprised to learn that children with disabilities were often hidden from public view. Inspired by this discovery, in 1919 Allen founded what became known as the National Society for Crippled Children, the first organization of its kind. In the spring of 1934, the organization launched its first Easter "seals" campaign to raise money for its services selling seals. To show their support, donors placed the seals on envelopes and letters. Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoonist J.H. Donahey designed the first seal. Donahey based the design on a concept of simplicity because those served by the charity asked "simply for the right to live a normal life." The lily -- a symbol of spring -- was officially incorporated as Easter Seals' logo in 1952 for its association with resurrection and new life and has appeared on each seal since. The overwhelming public support for the Easter "seals" campaign triggered a nationwide expansion of the organization and a swell of grassroots efforts on behalf of people with disabilities. By 1967, the Easter "seal" was so well recognized, the organization formally adopted the name "Easter Seals." Today Easter Seals assists more than one million children and adults with disabilities and their families annually through a nationwide network of more than 450 service sites. Each center provides top-quality, family-focused and innovative services tailored to meet the specific needs of the particular community it serves. At the core of the Easter Seals organization is a common passion for caring, shared by its 13,000 staff members and thousands of volunteers, and by those who support its mission. This heart-felt commitment to helping people with disabilities and their families is what Easter Seals is all about.

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[Updated March 31, 2019]
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