Edward Verne Roberts was born January 23, 1939. He contracted polio as an adolescent in 1953. For the first year of his illness, he spent nearly all of his time in a hospital. Eventually he left the hospital, but had to spend vast expanses of time in an iron lung.
His career as an advocate began when a high school administrator threatened to deny him a diploma because he had not completed driver’s education and physical education. After attending the College of San Mateo, in 1962 he was admitted to the University of California at Berkeley where he became the first severely disabled student to attend UC Berkeley.
When his search for housing at the university met resistance, in part because of the iron lung that he slept in at night, the director of the campus hospital offered him a room in an empty wing. Ed accepted on the condition that it be treated as dormitory space. Other significantly disabled students joined him there over the next few years. They began calling themselves the “Rolling Quads.”
In 1968 when two were threatened with a loss of services by a rehabilitation counselor, the “Rolling Quads” organized a successful protest that led to the counselor’s transfer. Their success on campus inspired the group to advocate for curb cuts, opening access to the wider community, and creating the first student-led disability services program at a university in the nation. The student program in turn led to the creation, in Berkeley, of the nation’s first center for independent living. Roberts assumed leadership of the Center for Independent Living, Berkeley, and guided its development as a model for disability advocacy and self-help services across the nation and around the world.
Ed Roberts earned a B.A. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1966, both from UC Berkeley, in Political Science. He also taught political science at the university for six years. In 1975, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Ed Roberts Director of the Department of Rehabilitation. He served in that post until 1983 when he co-founded the World Institute on Disability. Ed Roberts died from natural causes on March 14, 1995.
January 23 of each year in California is designated and set apart as Ed Roberts Day, a day having special significance. On Ed Roberts Day, all public schools and educational institutions are encouraged to conduct exercises remembering the life of Ed Roberts, recognizing his accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of other Californians with disabilities, and familiarizing pupils with the contributions that Ed Roberts and other Californians with disabilities have made to this state. (California. Senate Bill No. 1256, CHAPTER 115. Filed with Secretary of State July 19, 2010)