Justin Dart (August 29, 1930-June 22, 2002) is known for being the “Father of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the “Godfather of the disability rights movement,” and the “spiritual leader of the IL [independent living] movement.” Dart was a leader in the disability rights movement for thirty years; he was an amazing and very active advocate, speaking up for the rights of people with disabilities, women, the gay community and people of color. During his long and varied career he was awarded five presidential appointments and was the recipient of many awards and commendations.
Wherever Justin Dart went, his ‘signature’ hat was sure to be with him. To this day, his hat still attends events in his absence. He was wearing it on the White House lawn the day the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was signed by President Bush and it was atop his head whenever he was out rallying support for disability rights.
Dart, on numerous occasions, visited all fifty states, often at his personal expense, to spread the word about the ADA, Independent Living, disability rights, and the responsibility of everyone to vote. Dart and his wife were responsible for the largest turnout of people with disabilities to the voting booth. He wanted to spread the word about the importance of being politically active, at one point saying, “Get into politics as if your life depended on it. It does.” A message that is just as important today as it was back then.
His tireless advocacy led to many advances in the Disability Rights and Independent Living movements. He envisioned a “Revolution of Empowerment” that was, in his words, “a revolution that confronts and eliminates obsolete thoughts and systems, that focuses the full power of science and free-enterprise democracy the systematic empowerment of every person to live his or her God-given potential.” Dart’s legacy can be felt today in the form of the ADA, the fight for universal healthcare and anywhere there is a call to action to advance people with disabilities.
“I cry out to you from the depths of my being. Humanity needs you! Lead! Lead! Lead the revolution of empowerment!” -Justin Dart