Building An Accessible World
Photography by Ken Stein
Arising from the independent living movement’s birth on the University of California Berkeley campus in the 1960s, in the early 1970s the Center for Independent living emerged as a powerful social catalyst that would ultimately change the lives of millions of people not only in this country, but all around the world.
In those early days, John Hessler, Ed Roberts, Hale Zukas, Jan McEwen Brown and others founded the Center for Independent Living, Inc.
There were a few basic principles that CIL was founded upon, namely that:
Those who know best the needs of people with disabilities and how to meet those needs, are people with disabilities themselves
The needs of people with disabilities can be met most effectively by comprehensive programs that provide a variety of services under one roof to enable people to live independently in the community
People with disabilities should be as integrated as possible, as fully as possible, into the community at large
As one of the great disability rights pioneers Judy Heumann once said, “Independent Living isn’t doing everything by yourself – it’s being in control of how things are done.” For the first time ever, and for the first time anywhere, people with severe disabilities were in charge of their own lives. It wasn’t just a new idea, it was a revolutionary idea.
Today, over 50 years after the creation of CIL in Berkeley, there are over 400 centers of independent living across the United States and in 20 countries around the globe. The Independent Living/Disability Rights movement has literally removed physical and communication barriers and has changed attitudes about disability, not only in Berkeley, but around the world.
The photos in this exhibit, by photographer and lifelong disability rights activist Ken Stein, depict scenes from the Disability Rights Movement in the 70s and 80s that led up to the eventual passage of the ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990).
Founded in 1972, The Center for Independent Living (CIL) was the first independent living center in the country and the nation’s first disability rights advocacy group organized and operated by persons with disabilities. CIL became the center of the emerging independent living movement, based on the principle that people with disabilities are entitled to the same civil rights, options, and control over choices in their lives as people without disabilities.
For over fifty years, we have provided advocacy, programming and services for people with diverse disabilities; who are non-ambulatory or have reduced mobility; visual and hearing impairment; cognitive, psychiatric, and neurological disabilities; chronic illness; and reduced capacity due to aging.
CIL’s CORE Services are the programs that our organization was founded upon, including advocacy, counseling, housing assistance, and information and referral services. Since the organization’s birth 50 years ago, our programs have expanded to include Assistive Technology, Residential Access, Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency, Transportation Training, Living Well (Peer Counseling for Seniors), Youth Programs, and more!
For the past half century Ken Stein has actively worked to further the cause of Independent Living, Disability Access, and Disability Rights. From 1971-73 he was an early staff member of Bonita House, Berkeley’s first Halfway House for persons diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities; and before that was a volunteer at Napa State Mental Hospital.
He began working at Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living in 1974, and was the Program Administrator at the City of S.F. Mayor’s Office on Disability from 2002 to his retirement in 2013. For the ten years prior, he was the Manager of the National U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Hotline at DREDF (The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund).
Over the past six decades, Ken’s speaking, writing, photography, and collection of artifacts have greatly informed and given voice to the history of the Bay Area Disability Rights Movement.
Ken’s disability rights historical photos have appeared in college textbooks and a wide variety of local, regional and national publications, from Ms. Magazine to the Christian Science Monitor. In 2007, his photos were the centerpiece of a six month photo exhibit: “Berkeley’s ‘Other’ Revolution: Celebrating 35 Years of Independent Living, Disability Access, and Disability Rights” in the windows of Rasputin Music on Telegraph Avenue, commemorating CIL’s 35th Anniversary, the 30th Anniversary of the 504 Demonstration, and honoring the Bay Area’s place as the birthplace and longtime spiritual center of the Independent Living Movement.
In June 2008 he was the featured photographer and keynote speaker at “History, Progress, Transformation: Vision of the Future,” a disability rights history photography exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. One of his disability rights demonstration photos – of Adam Bertaina – is in the collection of the National Civil Rights Museum at the site of the Lorraine Motel.
Prior to his retirement 10 years ago years ago, in his 43 year work-life in a number of Bay Area disability access and disability rights organizations, he provided information, referral and technical assistance to over 69,000 individuals, organizations, and public and private entities about their rights and obligations under state and federal disability civil rights laws. (Each of the calls had to be logged!).
While at DREDF, he developed and was Project Director of the Disability Civil Rights History Project, a landmark model project that taught disability rights history to primary and middle school students in the Berkeley public schools. And for ten years with the City of SF, he assisted in municipal public policy development.
Ken’s ‘504’ picket sign was previously on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History’s in-person and virtual exhibit, ‘The Disability Rights Movement’ adjacent to the Greensboro Mississippi Lunch Counter; and is currently on display – for the next 15 years – at the Smithsonian American Museum of History “Democracy Now: A Giant Leap of Faith” exhibition.
In 1996-97, he organized and was the Steering Committee Chair of The 504 Sit-In 20th Anniversary Celebration and Commemoration. In conjunction with that Anniversary event held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the Committee – which served a free dinner to over 650 people! – produced a commemorative book, an 18 minute Video documentary (“The Power of 504”) and the 58 minute radio documentary, “We Shall Not Be Moved”
In 2000, his oral history from the “Disabled Persons Independent Living Movement Project” was published by UC Berkeley’s Regional Oral History Office in the volume, “Builders and Sustainers of the Independent Living Movement in Berkeley.”
In recent years, Ken has has been a consultant and contributor to film and video projects, and has been a panelist on a number of disability rights history and disability awareness panels.