Ed Roberts in his iron lung.

California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger on Monday signed a bill creating Ed Roberts Day, in honor of the Berkeley pioneer for disability rights. Ed Roberts Day will be each January 23rd, and the bill encourages schools and other institutions to commemorate Roberts’ drive for disability rights. State Senator Loni Hancock, a former neighbor of Roberts, introduced the bill.

Roberts contracted polio as a teenager in the early ’50s. When he left hospital, he still needed to spend much of his time in an iron lung. He began his career as an advocate for disability rights when a high school administrator threatened to deny him his diploma because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education. He was the first severely disabled student admitted to UC Berkeley.

Roberts received both his B.A. and M.A. in political science at Berkeley, and taught there for six years. Roberts later was Director of the state’s Department of Rehabilitation before going on to found the World Institute on Disability.

When Berkeleyside interviewed Mayor Tom Bates last week, he recalled Roberts, and how vastly different the world was for the disabled when he began his career. “He changed the world. He was truly an incredible civil rights pioneer,” Bates said. “I remember when he came to the university, the Berkeley Daily Gazette had this headline ‘Hopeless Cripple Admitted to UC’.”

Berkeley’s own tribute to Ed Roberts takes a more physical form. The Ed Roberts Campus, an international center for disabled people opposite the Ashby BART station, is at a late stage of construction and is scheduled to open this fall. The campus will house the offices of a number of disability organizations, and provide a range of disability-related services and programs.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...