People tend to focus on racism, homophobia and sexism, but UF history professor Steven Noll says no one talks about ableism.
Monday night, Noll, a master lecturer in UF’s history department, told about 60 people in the Reitz Union about disability in the U.S. and the contributions of disability advocate Ed Roberts.
Roberts contracted polio in 1953 at age 14. He was forced to be in an iron lung, Noll said. During the spring of 1962, African Americans were fighting for equality and inclusion, while Roberts fought for the same rights for people with disabilities.
The lecture was hosted by Delta Alpha Pi, a UF honor society that provides a community to high-achieving students with disabilities. The event was held to commemorate the organization’s first year on campus and to celebrate diversity, said Carrie Hartnett, the secretary of Delta Alpha Pi.
Hartnett, a 23-year-old UF political science and history senior, said the organization’s members plan to host more lecture-style events for students.
“We’re trying to be more than an honors society,” Hartnett said. “We’re trying to focus on advocacy as well.”
Noll was chosen because he is an advocate for individuals with disabilities and because he teaches a class on the history of disability in America, Hartnett said.
During the history lecture, Noll said when Roberts graduated from high school at 20 years old, he wanted to go to college. Despite being accepted into the University of California, Berkeley, the university said college wasn’t for him. He decided to go anyway.
“He was told by a dean — and hopefully deans don’t say these things today — ‘We tried cripples before, and it didn’t work’, and Roberts said, ‘Too bad, I’m coming here,’” Noll said.
Roberts then became an activist on campus and inspired other students with disabilities to come to the university and make an activist group, Noll said.
After Roberts graduated with his bachelor’s and masters degrees, people wanted him to go into academia, Noll said.
“He wanted to be an advocate and an activist for his life,” Noll said.
Roberts later established the Center For Independent Living, a community disability resource center. He sparked a movement, enabling protests that eventually forced then-president Jimmy Carter to sign and pass Section 504 of the Disabilities Act, which prohibited any organization associated with the Federal Government to discriminate on the basis of disability.
Carissa Madden, a 31-year-old UF special education masters student, came to the event to get more information on the history of prominent figures affected by disabilities to help her make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
Madden, a member of Delta Alpha Pi, said she was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.
“I always wanted to help people with disabilities, especially in higher education,” she said.
Hailey Remigio, a 19-year-old UF neuroscience sophomore, attempts to get down a set of stairs outside Rawlings Hall. “No one actually stopped and gave me a second look,” she said. “It wasn’t the slightest bit of a challenge for every passerby, but to me and other persons with disabilities, it was nearly impossible. And until you look through our eyes, you just won’t see it, not because you’re ignorant but because no one had shed light on it before.”