The modern movement for disability rights began in Berkeley, California in the early sixties. The movement founder, Ed Roberts, was disabled by the polio virus in the mid-fifties. Within months, he underwent a change from being an active youngster to someone unable to move more than his head and needing oxygen to breathe. In the hospital, he changed even further: from someone who tried to starve himself to death to someone who chose to live, to leave the hospital, and to build a life worth living. Ed Roberts fought his own belief that life with a disability was not worth living. Having won that close personal battle, he went on to challenge others. By changing himself, he changed the world and started a new civil rights movement.
It began when Ed Roberts decided he wanted to go to college. The Berkeley campus was not accessible, and the only place someone living with an iron lung could stay was the school infirmary. Before long, he transformed it into a one-person dormitory. Soon, word of his experiment got out, and other students with disabilities began applying for and being accepted to Berkeley. This group of students joined together to form a group called the Rolling Quads. Over the next several years, they worked together to make the campus and the city around them more accessible. As the Rolling Quads attracted other students with disabilities to Berkeley, they began a search for housing and employment opportunities beyond the college and the campus. Together, they formed a new community in center in Berkeley, run by and for people with disabilities. Staff and volunteers provided information, and peer support, and community advocacy services to local residents. The new center turned Berkeley into a national model of accessibility and the home of the first Independent Living Center in this country.
The national movement came to Vermont in 1979, when representatives from several regional cross-disability groups organized to create what is now the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL). Project Outreach, a survey conducted in 1978, indicated that hundreds of Vermonters, living with varying disabilities throughout the State shared certain common desires. They wanted better information, one-to-one peer support in dealing with disability issues, and the opportunity for small groups to meet to work together to make Vermont communities friendlier and more accessible to all people with disabilities. These results shaped VCIL’s first programs and its application for federal funding. Since then, VCIL has grown from a local Montpelier-based program to a statewide organization with regional offices in Bennington, Brattleboro, Burlington and outreach workers in other parts of Vermont.