Ed Roberts Says We Are Disabled In Waiting


“There are only two kinds of people in the world: the disabled, and the yet-to-be-disabled.”

I read this quote on Mary Ulrich’s wonderful blog.

It was by Ed Roberts, the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley, and a pioneering leader of the disability rights movement.

My uncle was disabled so I grew up, during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, around people with disabilities. When I look back, I cringe at how disabled people were treated but I also got to see how their lives grew over the next forty or so years as their rights began to be recognized and their opportunities expanded.

And, as I did so, I developed an appreciation for my own capacities and abilities, my freedom to live and move, my place in the world.

When my own kids were born prematurely, I very quickly enrolled them in an early intervention program. Their peers in the program were babies identified at birth as needing lifelong care of varying degrees.

This gave me another insight into the world of disability but, again, only a peripheral view as we navigated ourselves through the world of preschool, grade school, sports and other extra-curricular activities, moving to a different place from those children and their parents who we played alongside for those few years and whose life curve flowed along a very different path.

I have always been acutely aware that the experience I have as a mother, wife or daughter could be taken away from me in an instant and replaced with something altogether more dark and challenging.

But I have never considered that I am disabled-in-waiting.

That it is inevitable that at some point, sooner or later, I will be affected by my body’s inability to do something I want it to on an ongoing basis. Irrevocably.

I have always invested large amounts of time and energy into keeping healthy and fit. My goal is to go through life almost unaware of my body – to move and do anything I want without my body complaining or restricting me in any way. And for the most part I achieve that.

I envisioned myself as one of those little old ladies who fly around the world in their eighties discovering places far away. Visiting my children, playing with my grandchildren, being a trusted and loved elder who younger people regarded fondly. I hoped they would think about me and say ‘she’s quite a girl’ when hearing of my exploits that continued well into my dotage.

And then, one day.

I would die.

Just like that. The end. Over. Poof!

Ed Roberts words made me realize we are all just one step away from disability. That the gap between able and disabled is minute. ‘Them’ and ‘us’ barely exist even it we want it to. Sooner or later it will likely come to us all. And that’s quite a thought.

What are your thoughts? Am I taking a too pessimistic view? Let me know in the comments.

I am participating in a Blog Every Day For 30 Days Challenge advocated by Chris Brogan. I am doing this with the lovely Mary Ulrich who writes for Parents and Caregivers of Adults with Disabilities at Climbing Every Mountain. Check her out!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
September 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

Ed would be very proud and Alison, “You are quite a girl.”

Each post I learn more information about you and your family. I am really starting to feel like I know you. It’s nice.

Even when our bodies can’t do some things, we may be able to still keep in touch. That’s one of the modern miracles of technology and Ed would have liked that too.
Mary E. Ulrich recently posted..“Every Day for 30 Days” Blogging Challenge or IBPMy Profile


Alison Golden September 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thanks, Mary. Aren’t we lucky to live in the age of technology? I am so grateful.


Darlene September 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I used to swim not so long ago.
I like to do exercise to challenge my body more than for vanity.
2002, after a long rest (since childhood), I decided to train again.
My prize would be the trip to the competition, in this case international ones.
I went to the world masters in Australia.
Competitors were of all ages, beginning at 21.
All sports were covered.
It was very empowering to see the people: gray hair, wrinkled skin but with such energy and strength it was amazing.
You couldn’t believe their age.
The fear of growing old just seemed to disappear when watching them.

I went to a competition in Italy that was specifically for swimming.
An 94 Italian lady swam the 800 meter free style.
She had travelled to the tournament all alone, used a cane to walk.
When she dove into the pool, her goggles fell off.
She didn’t care. She just kept on swimming.

Age doesn’t necessarily have to mean we will tend to be disabled.
Eliminating circumstances in our life out of our control, the quality of our life will depend on us: if we take care of ourselves or not.
Your blogs prove you do.
You will always stay young.


Alison Golden September 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Hey, Darlene:

That is such an interesting perspective. That there is no such thing as ‘age.’ It reminds me that I feel so much younger at my age (46) than I did at 26. Because I look after myself, eat better, exercise more, don’t pull allnighters etc. I love hearing about empowered older women because for those of us who are ‘middle-aged’ it is inspiring! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂


Linda Jane Mclean
November 21, 2011 at 5:46 am

I found you because i was searching for a quote. A very wise man once said to me, “What “ordinary people” don’t know, is that every day people with a disability have a mountain to climb.”
As I am writing up Independent Living at the moment for the University, these little pearls that I come across are useful. Incidentally, I found that independence is invisible, and the less you allow people to be in control, the more obvious the disability and the poorer the QUALITY OF LIFE.
Thanks for writing!
Linda Jane Mclean recently posted..People PowerMy Profile


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