We are deeply saddened by the death of Marca Bristo, a legendary disability rights advocate and a grantee of the foundation. Marca was to have joined our Board of Trustees later this year but was diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few weeks ago.
Marca, partially paralyzed and a wheelchair user as a result of a diving accident in her early 20s, helped galvanize the disability rights movement in the 1980s around the inherent justice of making society accessible for all. Edward M. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Massachusetts senator and currently the chairman of the American Association of People With Disabilities, told the New York Times that meeting Marca back then was life altering. “She reframed the disability experience as a civil rights issue, as opposed to a medical issue,” he recalled.
She founded Access Living, one of the first centers for independent living (CILs) funded by the federal government in 1980. Over four decades, Access Living has fiercely embodied the motto of the disability rights movement, “Nothing about us, without us,” by ensuring people with disabilities have a voice in influencing policy decisions at the national and international level. Together with a larger coalition she helped forge, Marca successfully fought individual battles against segregated education and institutions and for making public transportation and housing more accessible. She also had a powerful impact on broad immigration and civil rights laws, most notably by being a key champion of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Ford Foundation fondly remembers Marca for her deep resolve and for the honest counsel she offered to our leadership and staff to help shape our work on disability. We embrace her courage and legacy as we continue our work to address the needs, concerns, and priorities of the one billion people around the world who live with disabilities.
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