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Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr.

“Most importantly, ADA is a landmark commandment of fundamental human morality. It is the world's first declaration of equality for people with disabilities by any nation. It will proclaim to America and to the world that people with disabilities are fully human; that paternalistic, discriminatory, segregationist attitudes are no longer acceptable; and that henceforth people with disabilities must be accorded the same personal respect and the same social and economic opportunities as other people."

Widely recognized as "the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act" and "the godfather of the disability rights movement." Dart was a leader in the disability rights movement for three decades.  In 1998 Dart received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award. "Justin Dart," said President Clinton in 1996, "in his own way has the most Olympian spirit I believe I have ever come across." After receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Dart sent out replicas of the award to hundreds of disability rights activists across the country, writing that, "this award belongs to you."

Time and again Dart stressed that his achievements were only possible with the help of hundreds of activists, colleagues, and friends. "There is nothing I have achieved, and no addiction I have overcome, without the love and support of specific individuals who reached out to empower me... There is nothing I have accomplished without reaching out to empower others."

Dart protested the fact that he and only three other disability activists were on the podium when President Bush signed the ADA, believing that "hundreds of others should have been there as well."

Dart contracted polio in 1948. With doctors saying he had less than three days to live, he was admitted into the Seventh Day Adventist Medical University in Los Angeles. "For the first time in my life I was surrounded by people who were openly expressing love for each other, and for me, even though I was hostile to them. And so I started smiling at people, and saying nice things to them. And they responded, treating me even better. It felt so good!"

Three days turned into forty years, but Dart never forgot this lesson. Polio left Dart a wheelchair user, but he never grieved about this. "I count the good days in my life from the time I got polio. These beautiful people not only saved my life, they made it worth saving."

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dart to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability. The Darts embarked on a nationwide tour, at their own expense, meeting with activists in every state, including Utah. Dart and others on the Council drafted a national policy that called for national civil rights legislation to end the centuries old discrimination of people with disabilities -- what would eventually become the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Dart is best known for his contribution to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1988, he was appointed, along with parents' advocate Elizabeth Boggs, to chair the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities. The Darts again toured the country at their own expense, visiting every state, including Utah, holding public forums attended by more than 30,000 people. Everywhere he went, Dart touted the ADA as "the civil rights act of the future."

While taking pride in passage of the ADA, Dart was always quick to list all the others who shared in the struggle: Robert Silverstein and Robert Burgdorf, Patrisha Wright and Tony Coelho, Fred Fay and Judith Heumann, among many others.  Dart never wavered in his commitment to disability solidarity, insisting that all people with disabilities be protected by the law and included in the coalition to pass it -- including mentally ill "psychiatric survivors" and people with HIV/AIDS. Dart called this his "politics of inclusion," a companion to his "politics of principle, solidarity, and love.

Read more about Justin Dart.