Edward Verne Roberts (1939-1995) was an American disability rights activist and is considered the founder of the independent-living movement.
Roberts contracted polio at age 14 and was left paralysed from the neck down, only able to move two fingers and two toes. He had great difficulty breathing and slept with an 800 lb iron lung at night.
In 1962 Roberts became the first severely disabled student to attend the University of California at Berkeley. His search for housing met resistance and he was first housed in the campus hospital. Roberts insisted that the area where he lived be treated as dormitory space, not a medical facility. His admission broke the ice for other students with severe disabilities.
While earning a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, Roberts helped fellow students to organise into a self-help group whose services included free counselling, off-campus housing referrals and a wheelchair repair crew.
The fledgling disability rights group became known as “the Rolling Quads”. They campaigned for community inclusion and advocated for access improvements. From lowering countertops and telephones to widening bathroom doors, the Rolling Quads opened up the campus to people in wheelchairs, making UC Berkeley one of the most accessible in the country.
After college, Roberts co-founded the Centre for Independent Living, a non-profit advocacy group run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities. Subsequently, the centre became a model for independent living centres around the world.
Ed Roberts’ legacy lives on in activists who are still pushing for a future that acknowledges the space for all of us — in our diverse ways of being — to live and thrive.