In the second part of this two part series on icons in the disability rights movement, we will discuss the contributions Edward Roberts, Laura Hershey, and Justin Dart on the disability rights movement. To read the first part of this two part series, click here. 






Edward Roberts

The Father of the Independent Living Movement

23 January 1939 – 14 March 1995

As a young teenager, Roberts became paralyzed after contracting polio. He had a very limited ability to breath on his own, and relied on an iron lung to make breathing possible. Roberts had to fight for his right to attend college, and later became a central figure in the creation of the Independent Living movement. Today there are hundreds of Independent Living Centers across the United States because of his work.

“I decided to be an artichoke… a little prickly on the outside but with a big heart.” Ed Roberts upon learning, at 14, that he had contracted polio and would be a ‘vegetable’ for the rest of his life.


Laura Hershey

11 August 1962 – 26 November 2010

Disability Rights Activist

As a journalist, poet, and disability rights activist, Laura Hershey fought for the rights of people with disabilities through her thoughtful and witty communication style.

Organizational and Committee Affiliations:

• Not Dead Yet
• Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition
• Remove Social Security Work Disincentives
• Increase visibility of LGBTQ people with disabilities
• Protested Jerry Lewis’ 2001 Muscular Dystrophy though she was once a poster child for the campaigns
• 2010: Lambda Poetry Award
• 2010: ‘Spark Before Dark’ – Laura‘s last book of poems
• 1998: President’s Award, President‘s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities
• 1983: Colorado College, CO, BA, History, Honorary Doctorate Degree
• 1983: Watson Fellowship to travel-write on behalf of global disability movement
• Antioch University, CA, MFA, Creative Writing
• Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Columnist
• Women’s Rights Conferences in Nairobi, Kenya and Beijing, China


Justin Dart

29 August 1930 – 22 June 2002

Co-founder of American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

Justin’s epiphany regarding respect for life and others surfaced when he learned, at 18, that he had contracted polio. When in college at the University of Houston, Dart organized students to fight against racism and segregation. Throughout his life, he worked with politicians to advance the rights of people with disabilities, and sat next to George H. W. Bush when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. “I measure the good part of my life from the time I got sick.” Dart told his niece, Mari C. Dart, at the memorial service of his brother, Peter W. Dart, January 27, 1988