The Father of the ADA

 In #ADA30, #ADAanniversary, #ThanksToTheADA
Photo of Justin Dart Jr. wearing a cowboy hat, glasses tilted down on his nose with a modest grin. Photo credit:

After contracting polio in 1948, Justin Dart began a journey fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities. Photo credit:












Last week we discussed how advocating for change can take time.  This week we will explore the work and dedication that went into some of the most important legislation pieces of our time.  Some may not know who Justin Dart Jr.  is, or that he is considered the ‘Father of the ADA’.  Justin Dart Jr. was born in Chicago to a wealthy and prominent family in 1930.  When growing up, Justin once described himself as ‘a super loser’ and spent time attending seven different high schools without graduating from a single one.  He was quoted as saying “People didn’t like me, and I didn’t like myself.”

Compassion breeds passion

In 1948 Justin contracted polio and was given just days to live.  Surrounded by people who treated him with kindness and compassion, Justin turned a corner.  He wanted to return that compassion to others as it felt good.  He didn’t die in that hospital, instead he left in a wheelchair with a new direction in life and a passion for helping others, later earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Houston as well as a Master’s degree in History.

Equal opportunity

Justin briefly attended law school before quitting to pursue a business venture in Japan, starting Japan Tupperware in 1963.  Justin believed in empowerment, and equal rights for people with disabilities and because of this belief, hired people with disabilities.  This was not seen by many in leadership as a direction the company should be going, so after a disagreement he resigned.

An advocate emerges

Upon returning the U.S., Justin began working with disability rights advocates and traveled the country, meeting with activists and gaining steam for what would be one of the biggest disability rights movements.  In 1981 Justin was appointed to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability by Ronald Reagan.  What Justin started turned into a civil rights movement culminating with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.


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