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"Ed Roberts Day"

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Ed Roberts Day commemoration approved by California legislation

California legislation to honor Ed Roberts by declaring an annual statewide day of "special significance" to commemorate his leadership in expanding civil rights for people with disabilities cleared its final legislative hurdle this month (July, 2010).

The measure is awaiting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature or veto after the Senate concurred in amendments, 34-0, on July 1. The Assembly previously had approved it without a dissenting vote.

Senate Bill 1256 would recognize Roberts' contributions in the same way that California currently honors gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk with a day of significance stemming from legislation that took effect Jan. 1.

Unlike a state holiday, California government does not shut down on special days of significance, but schools are encouraged to conduct suitable commemorative exercises within their existing budget.

Other legislation to designate special days of significance include SB 944, to honor Ronald Reagan, and AB 1775, to honor Japanese American Fred Korematsu for his efforts in fighting the federal government's World War II internment order.

Roberts, who died in 1995, was regarded by many Californians as the father of the disability rights movement, according to Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who proposed SB 1256.

Hancock and her bill, SB 1256, provide the following account of Roberts' life and contributions:

Roberts was paralyzed by polio from the neck down and spent long periods of time in an iron lung, yet the Burlingame native managed to attend the University of California, Berkeley. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in political science, and he later taught at the university for six years.

While attending UC Berkeley, Roberts and other disabled students formed the "Rolling Quads," which pushed for greater access on campus and around the Berkeley community.

Roberts later helped obtain government grants to launch the Physically Disabled Students Program, which was designed to help other disabled students attend UC Berkeley and was America's first student-led disability services program. It offered free counseling, off-campus housing referrals and a wheelchair repair crew.

"I'm tired of well-meaning noncripples with their stereotypes of what I can and cannot do directing my life and my future," Roberts said of the program. "I want cripples to direct their own programs and to be able to train other cripples to direct new programs. This is the start of something big - cripple power."

Roberts also helped create the first Center for Independent Living, in Berkeley, which served as a model for hundreds of similar organizations to advocate for and to provide living assistance to people with disabilities.

Roberts served as director of the state Department of Rehabilitation from 1975 until 1983, when he co-founded the World Institute on Disability. He died at age 56 from natural causes.

Besides Milk, state law currently designates annual days of special significance to honor John Muir, teachers, the California Poppy, and soldiers who served the United States in the Vietnam War.

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