Today is the birthday of the late disability rights leader Justin Dart. Here is an expert from the book, On A Roll: Reflections from America’s Wheelchair Dude with the Winning Attitude featuring his last media interview:
In June 2002, Justin Dart, the father figure in the disability community, had been suffering from congestive heart failure for quite some time, and with Father’s Day approaching, I thought it might be good for our audience to hear his voice. I was concerned about his strength and his ability to do the interview, but he wanted to do it. He was determined to do it. He was on his deathbed, but he wanted to reach out to his people. Imagine the raspy voice of a tired warrior on the other end of a telephone, probably held to his ear by his beloved wife Yoshiko and turn up the radio in your mind:
Me: It’s been a while since we have heard from you Justin, and on Father’s Day do you have a message you would like to say to the disability community? I know you have got a neat perspective having seen things develop over 40 years. What would you like to tell us now?
Justin Dart: Well I would like to say that we are so proud to have passed the ADA built on the 504. And that attitudes of all Americans have changed about people with disabilities. We are real human beings in the human race. That’s different than it used to be. However, now we have to get out and get our rights enforced. While no minority has all their rights enforced, we have to do it, because nobody ever gave rights away. We have to get out of life as usual and become fully 24 hour a day, 365 days a year passionate single-minded advocates for disability rights.
Me: Absolutely. Justin, what would you say on Father’s Day about the institution of fatherhood, you are a father in the literal sense in addition to the figurative sense in being the father of the disability rights movement. Do you have any specific messages about fatherhood for us?
Justin Dart: Being a father, whether it’s a symbolic father like I am or if it’s a blood father entails lots of responsibilities. And those responsibilities include having to give your sons and symbolic sons the hard advice that the time has come for them to be soldiers of justice. They have to give up life as usual, give up politics as usual and fight for the coming elections to elect people who support disability rights. And they got to fight every day as citizen advocates to create a society where no politicians or no media person would dare attack disability rights because they would risk getting reelected.
Me: How do you feel about what the Supreme Court has been doing recently in terms of whittling away at the Americans with Disabilities Act case by case?
Justin Dart: The recent court decisions on ADA and others have shown that states’ rights controls the course and they are trying to take us back to the days of states’ rights and power and privilege and the fact the states can do anything they want to people with disabilities and the federal government has no general authority to protect people with disabilities and other citizens on a federal basis. This is truly distressing.
Me: Yes it truly is. Listen, Justin, I wanted to take a few moments to kind of summarize my feelings about you and what you have done. We are so privileged to have you as a leader in our community. There is so much love that is expressed whenever your name is brought up. It’s just tremendous. And I have never ever seen that about anybody personally. I have heard about that kind of reverence with others in the past that I’ve admired. But to see it first hand and to feel the power and the influence you have had in your life and your career is just amazing. So, Justin, Happy Father’s Day to you. We love you.
That interview was June 16, 2002. Justin left us on June 22.