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Blue-curb parking spaces, accessible buses, sign-language interpreters, ramps to buildings, braille elevator buttons, and much more, were unknown a few short years ago. Where this all came from is as fascinating as where we hope to be headed.

Independent Living, is a philosophy, a way of looking at disability and society, and a worldwide movement of people with disabilities who proclaim to work for self-determination, self-respect and equal opportunities. As citizens in democratic societies persons with disabilities have the same right to participation, to the same range of options, degree of freedom, control and self-determination in every day life and life projects that other citizens take for granted.

Ed Roberts, Pioneer
Pioneer Ed Roberts

In 1972, the first Center for Independent Living was founded by disability activists, led by Ed Roberts, in Berkeley, California. Ed Roberts (1939-1995) is unfailingly cited as a pioneer in the movement by persons with disabilities for legally defined rights and control over their own lives. No longer content with limited life opportunities, nor willing to be defined solely as medical patients, disabled people in several cities nationwide shared the willingness to challenge authority, discard inherited prejudices, and effect social change that was the hallmark of the 1970s. Blue-curb parking spaces were to become ordinary sights within years.

Evolution of the CIL philosophy has not come without growing pains. Perhaps the most famous occurred in Norman, OK, when five of six staff members walked out of their CIL because of continuous confrontations with their board. This led to a change in the Rehabilitation Act in the 1980ís, where this change required that more than half of the members of the board of directors in each center for independent living must be individuals with disabilities.

Depending on the public services in the community, Centers might assist with housing referral and adaptation, personal assistance referral, or legal aid. Typically, Centers work with local and regional governments to improve infrastructure, raise awareness about disability issues and lobby for legislation that promotes equal opportunities and prohibits discrimination.

In 1990, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) finally became a reality in a nation designed for equality. We have now come, again, to a new chapter in this evolution of living with a disability, and how much can be done with one.

Famous People with Disabilities

Beethoven: Composer: Was deaf when he composed his 9th symphony.

George Washington: Had a learning disability. He could barely write and had very poor grammar skills.

Michelangelo: Artist: Epilepsy and Depression

Thomas Edison: Had a learning disability. He couldn't read until he was twelve years old and had a very difficult time writing even when he was older.

Albert Einstein: Mathematician/Physicist: Had a learning disability and did not speak until age 3. He had a very difficult time doing math in school. It was very hard for him to express himself through writing.

President Roosevelt: At age 39, his legs were paralyzed by polio. He became governor of New York state and was elected president four times.

Alexander Graham Bell: had a learning disability.

Stephen Hawking: physicist/mathematician has Lou Gehrigs Disease and is in a wheelchair. He needs a computer to speak.

Milton: English Author/poet (1608-1674): He became blind at age 43. He went on to create his most famous epic, Paradise Lost.

George Patton: This World War II General had a learning disability.

Leonardo DaVinci: Artist, Inventor: had Epilepsy and a Learning Disablility

Werner Von Braun: had a learning disability and often flunked his math tests in high school.

Winston Churchill: had a learning disability.

Walt Disney: had a learning disability.

Other famous people who have learning disabilities: Cher, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Greg Louganis, Bruce Jenner, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson, and many more. Reduced from original list of over 26 pages.

Famous people who are known or are thought to have had epilepsy: Charles Dickens, Neil Abercrombie, Margaux Hemingway, Tchaikovsky, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Alfred the Great, William Pitt, Napoleon, Byron, de Moupassant, Edward Lear, Handel, Berlioz, Paganini, Vincent Van Gogh, Tony Lazzeri, Gary Howatt, British marathon runner Alan Blinston, Alfred Nobel.
Reduced from original list of over 26 pages.

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