Speech by Ed Roberts, Director, Department of Rehabilitation at the 504 Demonstration, San Francisco

Tuesday, April 5, 1977

There are demonstrations in other major cities but this one, here in San Francisco, is the strongest...because we are visible and we know our strengths and capabilities. 504 is our civil rights act and unless its regulations are strong and positive we will continue to be deprived of the opportunities, rewards and responsibilities of our society.

Many of you here have championed for black rights, women's rights, chicano rights, senior citizen's rights and others. We share common enemies — discrimination, fear, ignorance and the basic reluctance on the part of the establishment to extend us our rights because it would be too expensive. Strong 504 regulations could permit us to attend any university or college, and to use every program or agency supported by federal funds. It would literally open doors for employment, education and recreation; without it we are second class citizens, living on the fringe of society, unable to participate and devalued.

It is appropriate that we in California should take the lead in demonstrating for strong 504 regulations. We have a lot of experience in this sort of thing.

In the early 1970's we first fought for and gained the most realistic and supportive homemaker-chore legislation in the country. Only in California can a disabled or elderly person possibly live outside of an institution or sheltered environment because our financial and health benefits are sufficient to cover our needs for survival.


We have elected a governor who is committed to extending equal rights and opportunities to minority groups. The members of the legislature that I have dealt with as Director of the Department of Rehabilitation have seemed sincerely committed toward this goal. But their efforts and ours are hampered without the clout of strong federal anti-discrimination regulations.

Just a glimpse of what we have accomplished here in California in the last year and a half shows what could be accomplished throughout the country with strong federal regulations:

  • * Public Transit:
  •     The governor will soon announce the state's across-the-board policy of accessible public transportation. This means that new public transit vehicles in California will be accessible to people who are in wheelchairs or who have other mobility limitations which prevent them from using conventional vehicles. This won't happen overnight but the commitment is there, and California is the first state in the country to take such a stand.
  • * Civil Service Jobs:
  •     My department is working with other departments and agencies of state government to insure affirmative action hiring for people with disabilities in state service — and I don't mean just people with mild or moderate disabilities — but those of us whose disability is severe and who may require special assistive devices, ramps, accessible restrooms, etc. We hope to open more than 8000 jobs in civil service.
  • * California (Marc Gold) Project:
  •     We have introduced a new, large scale training program that starts from the premise that people with severe mental and physical disabilities are trainable and that it is the traditional techniques that have failed not the person. We call the new
    project "Try Another Way" or the California Project. It prepares teachers and trainers to build step by step on the strengths and achievements of the individual; it has convincingly demonstrated how complex tasks can be analysed and taught to persons with severe mental and physical disabilities who were previously considered untrainable.
  • * Independent Living Programs:
  •     We are now building on the strength and example of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley which has shown, perhaps more dramatically than any other organization in the entire country, that persons with severe and multiple disabilities can live completely independently in the community and perform, on a par with anyone else, demanding and rewarding jobs in business, industry and social service. The Department of Rehabilitation has funded ten such programs on the CIL model throughout the state, including one here in San Francisco. These programs, if they gain your support and that of their local business, governments, and communities, will be able to extend many of the same services as CIL to the tens of thousands of severely disabled and elderly people in need of them.
  • * Disincentive Legislation:
  •     Later this year California will surely have new legislation that effectively removes many of the disincentives that are now written into state laws and regulations. These disincentives literally force many disabled people to continue to live on welfare rather than to seek training and employment opportunities. A law removing such disincentives from the federal social security regulations is direly needed and is one of the things we will all have to vigorously campaign for in coming months.

  • 4
  • * New Deaf, Blind and Developmentally Disabled Programs:
  •     There is much more going on including new programs for the deaf, blind and developmentally disabled — programs designed to help people with these disabilities move into the mainstream, to seize the new opportunities that are available, and to take the risks that are necessary to know their own strengths and capabilities.
  • * DR as Advocate:
  •     And finally the Department of Rehabilitation has been ordered by Governor Brown to increase its advocacy function...to fight for equal rights for disabled people in every sphere of activity. This mandate has put the resources and power of the department behind the demonstration we are holding here today and the battles that are coming up tomorrow and the next day until we finally share with other Americans the full civil rights to which we are entitled.

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