Meet Our Founders

WID was founded in 1983 by three dynamic forces in the disability rights movement. Read a little about each of them below.

Ed Roberts

Ed Roberts looks up at his son, a young boy who leans against his father's wheelchair
Ed Roberts with his son, Lee

Ed Roberts, co-founder and past president of WID, was a leader in the civil rights movement that championed the right of people with disabilities to lead independent lives. The first substantial funding he received was a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” award in 1984; he used this to establish WID as an influential public policy center.

Roberts was paralyzed from the neck down as a result of polio contracted at age 14. He became the first severely disabled student to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and he secured federal money to establish the Disabled Students’ Program at U.C. Berkeley, the first program of its type in America. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from the university and taught political science there for 6 years.

In 1972, he helped found the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, a self-help model of advocacy and service by and for people of all disabilities. In 1975, Governor Jerry Brown appointed him head of the California State Department of Rehabilitation, a position he held until 1982.

Roberts died in 1995 of natural causes at the age of 56.

Note: The featured image at the top of this page is a painting called Ed by the Bay by artist Patrick Connally, a long-time assistant and friend of Roberts.

Listen to this great podcast about Ed Robert’s life and read the notes on the podcast, too.
Listen to Ed Roberts’s “Patient No More” victory speech here:

Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann co-founded WID with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon in 1983, serving as co-director until 1993. Afterward, she was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education until 2001. From 2002-2006, she  was the World Bank Advisor on Disability and Development, leading the World Bank’s work on disability. She worked to integrate disability into the bank’s dialogues with client countries, its country-based analytical work, and its efforts to improve policies, programs, and projects that took people with disabilities fully into consideration in developing countries. The Director of the Department of Disability Services for the District of Columbia from 2007-2010, she then became the Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department, responsible for leading the Obama Administration’s efforts to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote the rights of persons with disabilities internationally; coordinating an inter-agency process for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; ensuring that foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities; leading disability human rights issues; ensuring that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international situations; and conducting public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues.

Before WID, Heumann was Special Assistant to the California State Director of the Department of Rehabilitation. From 1975-1981, she was Deputy Director of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California, the first Independent Living Center in the United States.

Seven WID staff members and one service dog pose with Judy Heumann, WID co-founder
WID staff celebrates Ed Roberts Day 2017 with Judy Heumann | Photo by WID

Joan Leon

Joan Leon co-founded WID with Judy Heumann and Ed Roberts in 1983. As Co-Director from 1983-94, she had the primary responsibility of developing a strong and reliable base of support for WID’s programs from government, corporations, and donors. In 1994, she became Executive Vice President in charge of programs as well as fundraising. A year later, she became CEO. In 1997, she assumed the role of President and guided the transition of WID to new leadership.

After the death of Ed Roberts in 1995, she was part of a group of community leaders who worked to develop a suitable memorial to Roberts’s work and life. This effort resulted in a plan for the Ed Roberts Campus, a nonprofit corporation formed by 7 major disability organizations that shared a common history in the Independent Living Movement in California. First open in November 2010, Ed Roberts Campus now houses those 7 organizations and a handful more at one site in Berkeley, CA, sharing resources and expertise and to improve services to people with disabilities.

Judy and Joan turn to Ed across the table and laugh
WID Founders: Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann and Joan Leon

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