Corbett Joan O’Toole, a disability community elder, has influenced generations of disabled artists, scholars, and activists through her writing, artwork, mentoring, and public speaking. She had the privilege of being part of Berkeley, California’s disability communities during pivotal moments in disability history, including the 1977 occupation of the San Francisco Federal Building (also known as “The 504 Sit-In”) and the early days of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc. She’s organized historic gatherings on disabled women, disabled queers, disabled parents, and disability studies. Her archives of decades of disability history are housed in the San Francisco History Center’s special collections, and the Bancroft library at University of California, Berkeley contains an extensive oral history.
O’Toole’s groundbreaking book Fading Scars: My Queer Disability History was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, and the Oscar-nominated film Crip Camp featured her as a disability history expert. Active in developing and supporting disabled dancers, her first joyful impromptu dance with her young disabled daughter was recorded in the film Mothers and Daughters. She and Cheryl Marie Wade midwifed the Axis Dance Company.
Her fiber art focuses on disability histories and received a one-woman show at the San Francisco Art Institute. She played competitive wheelchair basketball and power soccer, and she spends her time traveling in a self-built camper van, sitting near trees and water, writing, making art, and sharing disability history stories. She loves fiercely, laughs loudly, and works tirelessly for the survival of disabled people.