A Brief History of Disability Activism and DSP at Cal
UC Berkeley was one of the first campuses in the US to begin accommodating students with disabilities. This happened because of the activism of students who pushed UC Berkeley to provide equal learning opportunities for persons with disabilities. The disability activism of our UC Berkeley students helped ignite a civil rights movement that led to the passage of the ADA and continues to shape policy today.
The Disabled Students’ Program and the disability rights movement were also born out of student unrest and calls for justice. In 1962, Ed Roberts wanted to attend UC Berkeley. Like most Cal students, he was bright and ambitious, but in one respect he was not a "stock model." He'd had polio when he was fourteen. Now he used a wheelchair by day and respirator by night. Meetings were held among Dean of Students, Arleigh Williams; Director of Student Health Services, Dr. Henry Bruyn; Ed's mother, Zona Roberts; and Ed himself. This led to Ed's having a room, not in the residence halls, but in the on-campus health facility, Cowell Hospital. UC Berkeley was one of the first campuses in the US to begin accommodating students with disabilities. This happened because of the activism of students who pushed UC Berkeley to provide equal learning opportunities for persons with disabilities. The disability activism of our UC Berkeley students helped ignite a civil rights movement that led to the passage of the ADA and continues to shape policy today.
Newspaper accounts of Roberts' admission at Cal caught the attention of a physical therapist at Contra Costa Hospital. She showed them to a twenty-two year old patient, John Hessler. John had broken his neck six years earlier in a diving accident and expected to live out his life in the hospital. Instead, he applied for academic admission at Cal and, in 1963, became the second student to move into Cowell. By the end of the 1960's, a dozen students lived in the third-floor wing of Cowell Hospital.
They found and hired people to do personal care (to be known as "attendants"), discovered a largely unused law which entitled disabled individuals money to pay for their personal care (now known as "in-home support services"), and bought motorized wheelchairs. Registered nurse, Eleanor Smith (and later, Edna Brean), served as a liaison, assistant, and resource for students. Part-time orderlies helped with meals and back-up personal care. By 1969, the first adventurous students moved from the hospital to apartments on the south side of the Berkeley campus. This was a revolutionary step away from the conventional idea that disabled individuals needed to be sheltered and protected by medical professionals.
We owe much of the progress in the disability rights movement to Black disabled activists such as Don Galloway, Johnnie Lacy, Brad Lomax, and the Black Panther Party that supported basic needs during direct actions such as the SF 504 sit-in.
Physically Disabled Students' Program
In 1970, the students received a grant of $80,000 from the Federal Department of Education. The Physically Disabled Students' Program was established in a office behind the eatery Top Dog at 2532 Durant Avenue. Its first Director was John Hessler. Hessler hired three counselors: Mike Fuss, Zona Roberts, and Chuck Grimes. In those days, everyone at the office was a "generalist." They did whatever was needed, inventing if necessary, as they went along. Mike was the Assistant Director, Chuck was largely in charge of wheelchair maintenance, and Zona worked on the essential services of housing and attendant care.
Also in 1975, Susan O'Hara became Coordinator of the Residence Program. Recognizing the needless stigma attached to students housed in a campus hospital, the University moved the Residence Program to the Unit II residence halls. It is now housed in the fully accessible Unit I residence halls, two blocks closer to campus.
For the 25th anniversary of the Residence Program in 1987, a survey was taken of 157 former Residence Program participants. It found the average salary of those employed to be $32,224. Career fields include: law, architecture, psychotherapy, counseling, management, programming, systems analysis, market management, accounting, travel, education, real estate, writing, and drama. While the Residence Program is no longer operating, many of the independent living supports it offered are still available through DSP and TRIO.
The Disabled Students' Union
Like other groups in the 1960's, the students organized themselves to better deal with bureaucracies and to voice their concerns. The "Rolling Quads" was formed in 1969 (renamed the "Disabled Students' Union" in 1973). They proposed the formal establishment of services for the disabled students at Cal. Today, there are several active student groups advocating for students with disabilities at Cal.
The Disabled Students' Program
"Physically" was dropped from the Physically Disabled Students' Program's name in 1982, in recognition of the services provided for students with learning disabilities. In 1988, Susan O'Hara became Director of the Disabled Students' Program, and Bill Blanchard succeeded her as Coordinator of the Residence Program. Susan retired in 1992, and Lynn Bailiff became the Disabled Students' Program's Director. Lynn Retired in 1997, and Ed Rogers became DSP's manager in 1998.