For more than thirty years, Justin Dart was an uncommon leader of all people with disabilities. He believed the fight for civil rights, equality, and justice was truly a patriotic duty for each and every American. The “politics of inclusion” were fundamental to all of his work. He genuinely valued every human being, regardless of disability condition.
Justin Dart will always be remembered as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He helped shape the ADA and traveled to all fifty U.S. states to inform, educate, and organize grassroots support for the historic 1990 civil rights law. I recall the excitement of just seeing him, in person, on the dais at the White House signing. He, however, wanted to share the limelight and believed that hundreds of other disability rights activists should have been on the podium, too.
As a gentle giant who knew how to make change happen, Justin Dart knew everyone’s advocacy was needed in “the revolution of empowerment.” I recall that he often referred to the nation’s disability rights activists as “friends and colleagues.” He was comfortable fighting for our rights whether he was testifying in the halls of Congress, leading presidential forums, or protesting at rallies and marches.
The passing of Justin Dart on June 22, 2002, was a sad day for people with disabilities. We have lost one of our great leaders. However, Justin’s wife, Yoshiko on behalf of both of them wants us to celebrate his commitment, vision, and life.
I can hear Justin’s words: “I am with you. I love you. Lead on.”
Wendy S. Brower is the Executive Director of The Disability Institute