This Month in Disability History

June 2014

By Mike Reynolds for Ability Maine

June 1, 1953Roland Sykes is Born – Roland Sykes was a pioneer in the birth of disability activism on the Internet, with his development of the DIMENET service used to create a central hub for critical online information for disability rights activists.  DIMENET was chosen by Fred Fay, Justin Dart, Becky Ogle, and Evan Kemp. Mr. Sykes was an extremely active member of ADAPT, and several leading members of the Independent Living Community have shared there collective experiences at http://www.dimenet.com/memorial-roland.sykes.php . Sykes was remembered for a tour of the United States in 2002.  The tour was started after the death of Justin Dart. A multitude of friends have discussed how Mr. Sykes loved being on “The White Cloud”, a nickname for his bus he toured with.  Roland's Mentor was Fred Fay and Sykes produced an online video interview which is currently being hosted via DIMENET. Roland passed away on March 10, 2008. He was 54.

June 3rd, 2008Harriet McBryde Johnson died– Harriet McBryde Johnson died unexpectedly at her home in Charleston, NC. She was born with a form of Muscular Dystrophy and earned her Law Degree and practiced civil rights law for a number of years. In 1990, after a Parade Magazine article, she began protesting the MDA telethon.  She gained international notoriety when her piece titled “Unspeakable Conversations” was a cover story in the New York Times Magazine. The article detailed a debate on bioethics with Peter Singer.  She wrote two books “Too Old to Die Young” and “Accidents of Nature” and was an Democratic Party Activist, attending the 1996 convention as a delegate. She was an extremely vocal supporter of “Not Dead Yet” and wrote a groundbreaking analysis of the Terri Schiavo   case for Salon.com. She was voted New Mobility's 2003 “Person of the Year,” and received several other prestigious awards.  A memorial webisite is available at http://www.cripcommentary.com/harriet, as well as a link to a streaming speech given at the Holocaust Museum, recorded by C-Span.


June 18, 2008Heavy Load play first gig in US - Heavy Load, The world's first disabled punk band that had played festivals in the U.K., sat for questions at a screening of their film at the Dis-This Film Series, then played a full set at the legendary Arlene's Grocery, a Lower East Side bar that specializes in punk music. The band is comprised of three men with learning disablities and two non-disabled men who also provide support on the guitar. The band was the subject of a documentary that was featured on the Independent Film Channel. A short video of their gig in NYC can be found on hulu.com


June 22, 2002Justin Dart Dies at 71 – The “father of the ADA” died on this date in 2002 after several years of declining health. He developed polio in 1948, leaving him permanently disabled. He would become a follower of Indas K. Gandhi and would go to the University of Houston  where he would receive a bachelor's and masters degree in political science and history. He would start several lucrative businesses, notably taking the Tupperware brand into Japan, but would turn his pursuits to grassroots activism after seeing how individuals with polio in Vietnam were mistreated. He spent several years in Japan in solitude with his wife Yoshiko, before moving back to Texas and later being appointed to head the Rehabilitation Services Administration by President Reagan in 1986. His appointment would cause him to travel to every state in the country and lay the foundations of what would become the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1995, he would be one of the founders of the “Justice for All” listserv, a groundbreaking email list for disability activists.  In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal  of Freedom for his work in disability advocacy. In 2002, his death was honored by the disability community as a day to celebrate freedom. His funeral celebration was broadcast on C-Span.

June 23, 1995 Jonas Salk Dies at age 80 – Jonas Salk, the inventor of the first polio vaccine using a dead form of the polio virus, died at age 80 after establishing the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in 1965.  The Salk Institute is a world renowned research facility that is housed by the Pacific Ocean and has several Nobel Laureates. Salk discovered the polio vaccine by killing the vaccine with formaldehyde then injecting it to allow the virus to generate a resistance to the dead vaccine; it would use the same resistance to the live virus. On April 12, 1955 the Salk Vaccine was judged to be safe after a double-blind placebo controlled study of over two million individuals.