New York Times obituary
From Disability History
Edward V. Roberts, 56, Champion of the Disabled By J. MICHAEL ELLIOTT Published: March 16, 1995
Edward V. Roberts, a quadriplegic who helped redefine how Americans view the physically handicapped, died on Tuesday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 56.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said Jonathan Gold, his attendant and friend.
Paralyzed from the neck down with motion in only one finger and needing an iron lung or respirator after contracting polio when he was 14, Mr. Roberts went on to become a leader in the movement that championed the right of people with disabilities to lead independent lives.
In 1962 he became the first severely disabled student to attend the University of California at Berkeley. He was first housed in the campus hospital, where he used his iron lung at nights. During the day a respirator was attached to his wheelchair.
While earning a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, Mr. Roberts helped fellow students to organize into a self-help group whose services included free counseling, off-campus housing referrals and a repair crew whose expertise was wheelchairs. He also taught political science at the university for six years.
By 1972 he had helped found the Center for Independent Living, which furthered a nuts-and-bolts approach to solving the problems of people with disabilities, including help in modifying cars and vans to enable them to drive. A referral service was organized to develop a pool of reliable aides to help disabled people bathe, eat and dress.
The group campaigned to remove provisions of Federal laws that discouraged the disabled from working. He also led campaigns demanding access to public transportation and seating aboard buses and trains. In 1975, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. of California named Mr. Roberts to head the State Department of Rehabilitation. As director until 1983, he oversaw a staff of more than 2,500 employees and a budget of $140 million. The department now finances 28 state independent-living centers based on models that he developed.
Mr. Roberts helped found the World Institute on Disability in 1983. He traveled to Russia, Australia, Japan and France to raise public awareness on the philosophy of independent living for the disabled. In 1984 he received a MacArthur Foundation grant that he used to pay for his activities with the institute.
In a 1991 book "Rescues: The Lives of Heroes," the author, Michael Lesy, said Mr. Roberts was one of nine people who defined heroism. Mr. Lesy wrote, "What a black man like Bob Moses had been in the civil rights movement or a woman like Betty Friedan had been for the feminists, Ed Roberts was for the disabled."
His marriage to Catherine Roberts ended in divorce in 1982. He is survived by a son, Lee, of Redding, Calif.; his mother, Vona, of Berkeley, and two brothers, Mark, of Eugene, Ore., and Ron, of Hawaii.