Ed Roberts, The Father of the Independent Living Movement

Black and white photo of Ed Roberts.

As the next piece in our Independent Living History series, Looking Back As We Move Forward, we feature Ed Roberts, AKA The Father of the Independent Living Movement.

Ed Roberts is key to knowing the history of Centers for Independent Living as well as our history and philosophy. Ed was born in California and contracted polio when he was 14 years old, this caused him to be paralyzed from the neck down with the use of 2 fingers on one hand and a few toes. He required an iron lung or a respirator to breathe.

He encountered many obstacles in acquiring his education, most notably in 1962 when he was accepted to University of California, Berkeley.  The University did not know he was a person with a disability and subsequently refused him access because his iron lung would not fit in the dorm. Ed challenged the college administration and ultimately was admitted. While at UC Berkeley Ed and a few other students with disabilities lived in the Student Health Center, together they created an advocacy group called The Rolling Quads. The group pushed for better accessibility on campus and funding for supports so students with disabilities could attend class and live independently.

The Rolling Quads developed and launched the Physically Disabled Students Program, the first of its kind program that was run by and for students with disabilities. The program repaired wheelchairs, provided referrals for personal care attendants, served as peer mentors, and created other services that allowed students to live in the community. It was this program that in 1972 gave rise to Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living, the first CIL in the country. This beginning for CILs set into motion our peer-based services as well as strong advocacy for access and community for all.

The Ed Roberts Campus is dedicated to fostering collaboration and improving the services and opportunities for people with disabilities locally and worldwide. Learn more at www.edrobertscampus.org.

Ed Roberts, The Father of the Independent Living Movement
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