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Founders of World Institute on Disability

Ed Roberts

Ed Roberts, co-founder and past president of WID, was a leader in the civil rights movement that championed the right of people with disabilities to lead independent lives. He received a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award in 1984 and used the grant to establish WID as an influential public policy center.

Ed Robert's Life: Highlights from Speeches

Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of polio contracted at age 14. He became the first severely disabled student to attend the University of California at Berkeley, and he secured federal money to establish the Disabled Students Program at the university, a first for the nation. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from the university and taught political science there for six years.

In 1972, he helped found the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, a self-help model of advocacy and service by and for people of all disabilities. In 1975, Governor Jerry Brown appointed him head of the California State Department of Rehabilitation, a position he held until 1982.

Roberts died in 1995 of natural causes at the age of 56.

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann co-founded WID with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon in 1983, serving as co-director until 1993. Afterward, she was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education until 2001. From 2002-2006, she  was the World Bank Advisor on Disability and Development, leading the World Bank's work on disability and its integration into their dialogues with client countries and their country-based analytical work and improving policies, programs, and projects to take people with disabilities fully into consideration in developing countries. The Director of the Department of Disability Services for the District of Columbia from 2007-2010, she then became the Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department, responsible for leading the Obama Administration's efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally; coordinating an interagency process for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; ensuring that foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities; leading on disability human rights issues; ensuring that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations; and conducting public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues.

Before WID, Heumann was Special Assistant to the California State Director of the Department of Rehabilitation. From 1975-1981, she was Deputy Director of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, the first Independent Living Center in the United States.

Joan Leon

Joan Leon co-founded WID with Judy Heumann and Ed Roberts in 1983. As Co-Director from 1983-94, she had the primary responsibility of developing a strong and reliable base of support of WID's programs from government, corporations and donors. In 1994, she became Executive Vice President in charge of program as well as fundraising, then CEO a year later. In 1997, she assumed the role of President and guided the transition of WID to new leadership.

After the death of Ed Roberts in 1995, she was a part of a group of community leaders who worked to develop a suitable memorial to Ed's work and life. This effort resulted in a plan for the Ed Roberts Campus, a nonprofit corporation formed by seven major disability organizations that share a common history in the Independent Living Movement in California. Open in November 2010, Ed Roberts Campus now houses the seven organizations at one site in Berkeley, CA, sharing resources and expertise and to improve services to people with disabilities.

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