The May 22, 2018 episode of the podcast 99%Invisible is about something you use every day and probably don't think about: Curb Cuts.
Today, we have these cuts in most place in most cities, thanks to the activism of Ed Roberts, a man who contracted polio as a boy leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. Ed Roberts story is one of courage: he learned to breathe without his iron lung using a diver's technique often referred to as frog breathing, and determination, although able to live outside his iron lung for only brief periods, he completed high school then fought for the right to attend college.
While at UC Berkeley, Ed Roberts received press attention:
which led to other students with special needs enrolling there. These students often required "attendants to heft wheelchairs up staircases and into lecture halls. It was hard to miss the new presence on campus."
"By the time Ed Roberts was in graduate school at Berkeley, the disabled students were noticeably and unmistakably part of the community. Even more so because some were zipping around in power chairs, which had been invented to help wounded veterans and were starting to be more available to the general public."
Now with power chairs and a portable ventilator, Ed wanted to be able to go out on a date without having an attendant along to push his chair. This should have been the game-changing moment for Ed and other wheelchair users, but there was still the problem of curbs.
I encourage you to listen to this podcast or read the transcript to learn the details of this extraordinary story.
"Ed Roberts, who U.C. Berkeley officials once thought was too crippled for their university, finished his masters degree, taught on campus, and co-founded the Center for Independent Living, a disability service organization that became a model for hundreds of others around the world. He also married, fathered a son, divorced, won a MacArthur genius grant, and for nearly a decade ran the whole California state Department of Rehabilitation Services. He was 56, an international name in independence for the disabled, when a heart attack killed him."
" Every curb cut would become a memorial for Roberts.
Today, Roberts’ wheelchair is stored at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and remains on permanent display on their website. But the struggle continues — curb cuts are common now, but they’re not at every intersection. “We’ve not yet accomplished full inclusion,” says Lawrence Carter Long. The work remains. "
Ed Roberts tenacious work and advocacy has benefited us all. Anyone who has pushed a stroller, dragged luggage, or moved from place to place should be blessing him for easing the way. Modern life with all the delivery services we have now would be both more difficult and more dangerous if not for the kindness and inclusion of those slopes in our sidewalks.
Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act there has been progress in making the built environment better for us all. There is still work to be done making spaces in our built environment more livable for everyone and every body.