Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Profile: Justin Dart

I need a better title for these. Any ideas?

I love that hat. Can you tell he's Texan?

Justin Dart is a man whose name should be known, especially by people with disabilities, but every year we bring kids to the Florida Youth Leadership Forum who have no idea who he is.

In 1948, at the age of eighteen, Dart contracted polio. Like many other people, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he used a wheelchair after his recovery from the disease. Dart didn't let his disability get in the way of attending the University of Houston in 1951, but--and this is what gets me--the university refused to give him a teaching certificate due to his disability. This is one of the ultimate markers of the change that's been made in the past sixty years. Although it isn't always easy for people with disabilities to attend college, a discriminatory act like this would raise hackles all over the place.

Mostly thanks to Mr. Dart.

He wasn't just a disability rights activist--he was a successful businessman--but he used his success in other areas to fight for his beliefs. After he saw the horrible conditions children with disabilities were often faced with in Japan, he withdrew his business from the country. Although he was friends with President Reagan, he spoke out against insufficient reform in legislature for people with disabilities. He had a major hand in getting the ADA passed, calling it the "civil rights law of the future." But becoming known as the Father of the ADA didn't convince Dart to stpo campaigning to rest on his laurels. At his death in 2002, he was fighting for universal health care.

This, combined with the fact that his first civil rights activism in the 1950s had to do with racial discrimination, reminds me of the fact that it's not just disability rights I fight for. It's human rights. And while I speak out about disability issues, because I know a lot about being a person with a disability, I know even more about being a human.

1 comment:

  1. In middle school I wrote this giant report on Justin Dart, just before he passed away. He was pretty much the coolest guy ever. AND he was a representing Texan with a stetson. Hell yeah! I love that you profiled him.