As an organization that has grown-up throughout the disability rights movement, The Independence Center owes much of our history and success to the foundational work laid by the individuals who fought for the rights of the people with disabilities community. For far too long, people with disabilities were treated as less than human. The disability rights movement was a pivotal point in our history, where people from all walks of life came together to fight for changes to a system that wasn’t working. In this series, we will discuss the courageous individuals who led the charge in the fight to expand equal rights to people with disabilities. In the first part of this two part series, we’ll look at Dr. Paul Longmore, Reverend Wade Blank, and Dr. Frank Bowe, who are all key figures in the disability rights movement. Much of the content in this blog came from a series of posters that we have in our conference rooms here at The IC, that are intended to pay homage to these important pioneers in the disability rights movement.


Dr. Paul Longmore

29 March 1947 – 21 August 2007

Longmore contracted polio when he was 7, and was unable to use his hands. He wrote by holding a pen in his mouth, and using it to punch the keyboard.

He co-founded the San Francisco State University’s Institute on Disability.

Books by Longmore:

  • Why I burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability
  • The Invention of George Washington
  • Encyclopedia of American Disability History, Volumes 1-3

Longmore was one of the nation’s leading scholars of disability history. He gained notoriety while visiting Stanford University, where he burned a copy of his first book. Longmore was trying to make a point about the bizarre system of work disincentives that keep many people with disabilities from taking jobs. In his case, this system threatened his ability to work and live. He later recounted the incident in “Why I Burned My Book.”


Reverend Wade Blank

ADAPT Founding Father

4 December 1940 – 15 February 1993

The 1960’s

  • Marched in Selma, Alabama with Reverend M. L. King Jr., for voting rights
  • Lived and worked as a War on Poverty organizer on the south side of Chicago, while studying to become a Presbyterian Minister.

The 1970’s

  • Recruited for an Assistant Administrator position by Heritage Nursing Home, in Denver, CO., to start a youth wing. Blank created a liberated community for those residents. He said, “…they wanted co-ed living…pets…rock n’ roll bands…the nursing home (was)…like a college dorm on a crazy weekend…”
  • Started ADAPT (American Disabled for Accessible Pubic Transit).
  • Immobilized an RTD bus for two days (July 5-6, 1978), at the intersection of Broadway and East Colfax, in downtown Denver, along with 19 people with disabilities, protesting the lack of wheelchair ramps on the buses. Blank said “Lets take 25 wheelchairs, go out, surround a bus, hold it, and see what happens. Just like magic it worked.”

The 1980’s

  • ADAPT targeted other cities nationwide, as well as Greyhound, for wheelchair access to buses.

The 1990’s

  • Organized the March on Washington DC, demanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) be passed. People with severe disabilities crawled up the Capital steps and protested in the rotunda, where they were arrested.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act was signed on July 26, 1990.
  • February 15, 1993: Wade drowned, during a failed attempt to save Lincoln, his eight-year-old son, who was caught in a turbulent current in the waters of Todos Santos, Mexico.

Blank was pivotal in organizing and participating in demonstrations in other cities often around the choice and freedom to ride the bus.



Dr. Frank Bowe

The Father of Section 504

29 March 1947 – 21 August 2007

Bowe lost his hearing by age three, as a result of complications from measles. Having been discouraged from using sign language during his formative years, Bowe became an activist in early life.

Determined to be a master of his own fate, and master ASL, Bowe earned a B.A. in education, from Western Maryland College, a M.A. from Gallaudet College in Washington, DC. And a Ph.D. from New York University. He was a professor at Hofstra University in New York from 1989 to 2007. In his life, Bowe wrote over thirty publications, including the ones featured below.


  • Handicapping America, 1978
  • Rehabilitating America, 1980
  • Comeback: Six Remarkable People Who Triumphed Over Disability, 1981
  • S. Census and Disabled Adults: The 50 States and the District of Columbia, 1984
  • Black Adults with Disabilities: A Statistical Report Drawn from the Census Bureau Data. Washington, DC: President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, 1985
  • Changing the Rules, 1986
  • Equal Rights for People with Disabilities, 1992
  • Physical, Sensory, and Health Disabilities: An Introduction, 2000
  • Universal Design in Education: Teaching Nontraditional Students, 2000
  • Making Inclusion Work, 2004


  • The 1970’s
    • D., New York University
    • First Executive Director, American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD)
    • Organized sit-ins at Health, Education and Welfare offices in Washington, DC and nine other state Capitals to force legislation for the rights of people with disabilities
    • Helped implement Section 504, the world’s first civil-rights provision for persons with disabilities


  • The 1980’s
    • First person with a disability to help plan the UN International Year of Disabled Persons
    • Chaired the U.S. Congress Commission on Education of the Deaf (COED) Professor, Hofstra University


  • The 1990’s
    • Helped push for TV’s to receive and display closed captioning (Television Decoder Circuitry Act)
    • President’s Distinguished Service Award
    • Distinguished Teacher’s Award
    • DeafLife Magazine, cover story
    • National Hall of Fame for Disabled People


  • The 2000’s
    • DeafLife Magazine, cover story
    • Wrote ‘Disability in America 2006’