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Gini Laurie

Virginia Grace Wilson “Gini” Laurie (June 10, 1913 – June 28, 1989) was a central figure in the 20th century development, in the United States, of the independent living movement for people with disabilities. It is sometimes said that she was one of its two “grandmothers” -- the other one being Mary Switzer, who was in charge of vocational rehabilitation at the national level from 1950 to 1970.

Gini Laurie did her work entirely as a volunteer. From modest beginnings in the 1950s, she founded the organizations now known as Post-Polio Health International and the International Ventilator Users Network – organizations that remain vigorous continuations of her legacy. Through them she developed international networks of polio survivors and other people with physical disabilities, healthcare professionals in the field of rehabilitation, policymakers, and disability rights activists. She edited and published a newsletter that soon grew into an influential magazine called the Rehabilitation Gazette: International Journal of Independent Living by and for Persons with a Disability. During the 1980s, she organized international conferences to deal with the emerging crisis with post-polio syndrome. In 1984, she co-edited and published the first edition of the Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.

Laurie was an advocate for cross-disability causes as well as those related to polio, and as early as 1963 was publishing articles on what came to be called the independent living philosophy – though as she often reminded people, the phrase “interdependent living” was a more accurate description of the situation for human lives generally, disabled or not.

In St. Louis, Missouri, in 1970, she helped Max Starkloff found Paraquad, an organization devoted to helping disabled residents move from nursing homes and other institutions into neighborhood homes, and which became part of the first small group of Centers for Independent Living in the US. There are now over 600. In 1974, she and her magazine supported the founding of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD), a disability rights organization created, administered and led by people with disabilities. She was the only nondisabled member of its Board of Directors.

In 1977, the same year that the ACCD successfully pressured the government to release final regulations implementing Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, Laurie wrote Housing and Home Services for the Disabled: Guidelines and Experiences in Independent Living.

For three decades, she campaigned against the institutionalization of people with disabilities, and for the rehabilitation and personal assistance services that would make an empowered life possible for them in their communities. “[M]orally, institutionalizing young people with so much potential for service is wrong,” she said in 1963. And in 1977, “ Of first importance is the right to freedom of choice to live as normal a life as possible within the community… Segregation is unnormal.”

Her work was honored at the national level with the President’s Distinguished Service Award in 1979 and the Marion Mill Preminger Award of the People-to-People Program; at the state level, in Missouri, with the Jefferson Award; locally in St. Louis with the St. Louis Globe Democrat 1979 Woman of Achievement award and the prestigious St Louis Award in 1986; by her alma mater Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 1981, with the first in its continuing series of Alumnae Achievement Awards; and posthumously by a permanent exhibit in the Missouri History Museum.

Learn more about Gini Laurie and also at Wikipedia.