Rosarium Health

Justin Dart Jr - American Activist and The Godfather of ADA

accessibility pioneers

Justin Dart Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, on August 29th, 1930. He grew up in one of the wealthiest families in Chicago. His father, Justin Whitelock Dart Sr, was the President of Dart Industries. Also, Charles R Walgreen, the founder of Walgreens, and his wife Myrtle Walgreen were the parents of Dart's mother, Ruth Walgreen Dart. 

Unfortunately, Dart contracted polio at the age of 18 before joining the University of Houston. He had been suffering from pneumonia, and the after-effects of polio took away the use of his legs. That resulted in him using a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Dart earned a degree in History and Education at the University in 1954. 

The University denied him his teaching certificate due to his disability. It was during that time that Justin's journey of activism began. Since the University of Houston back then was racially segregated, Justin was the first student to organize a student group to oppose racism at their school. 

After finishing his studies, Dart went on and became a successful entrepreneur. He founded three corporations and became the President of Tupperware in Japan. He would employ both men and women with disabilities in his companies to empower them. But Justin's mission was more extensive than money. He wanted to create actual social change. Therefore, in 1967, he gave up his corporate life to pursue Activism for people with disabilities. 

In 1972, Justin Dart Jr began to identify himself as a Republican. This change directly opposed the efforts of President Ronald Regan, a personal friend of his family, and pressured him to revise the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. In 1981, Dart Jr accepted President Regan's appointment as Vice Chairman of the National Council on Disability. He worked with both Republican and Democratic members of Congress to advance the rights of people with disabilities. 

During the same period, Justin and Yoshiko Dart embarked on a cross-country journey to collect testimonies from people with disabilities. In order to draft legislation that would finally address prejudice against people with disabilities in America, their objective was to gather accounts of the injustices and struggles that disabled people experienced. All of this was done twice at the Darts' expense. 

After talking to disabled people all over the country, Justin and Yoshiko returned to Washington, D.C., where they started drafting the legislation that is now known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa collaborated with many other well-known leaders to draft the ADA after receiving the data gathered. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was passed on July 26th, 1990. President George H.W. Bush, Justin Dart, Evan Kemp, Harold Wilke, and Sandra Parrino were present at the signing ceremony. And before signing the document into law on the Whitehouse Lawn, Bush said it was finally time to let the shameful wall of exclusion tumble down. But Justin didn't stop there. He set out to educate people on the significance of the ADA for people with disabilities. 

After serving on several federal and state disability commissions, Dart was appointed by President George H.W. Bush as the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment for People with Disabilities. In 1993, Dart left his position at the President's committee and founded Justice for All along with other activists. They fought against the congressional attempts to weaken ADA. He even organized numerous Anniversary events for ADA. 

Because of his consistent advocacy and conversations about the rights of people with disabilities, Justin Dart became a well-known American activist and advocate for people with disabilities. In fact, he was instrumental in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as the information from his tours, network, and diligence became the legislative conversation around ADA. 

In 1995, Justin co-founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AADP) with John Kemp, Paul Hearne, Senator Bob Dole, Tony Coelho, and Pat Wright. In 1997, Justin Dart suffered multiple heart attacks curtailing his ability to travel. But that didn't stop him from lobbying for the rights of people with disabilities and attending rallies, events, demonstrations, and public hearings. 

Towards the end of his life, Justin Dart worked on a political manifesto that outlined his vision for the revolution of empowerment. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. During the ceremony, Clinton recognized Dart's efforts in opening doors of opportunities to millions of American citizens by securing the passage of one of the Nation's civil rights laws. 

Justin Dart Jr. died on June 22nd, 2002, from congestive heart failure related to polio. For members of the disability community, Dart is a hero and an icon for the modern disability movement and the ideals of leadership and advocacy. 

If you are interested in learning more about this pioneer of disability advocacy please check out this interview done by the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. His work is one of the reasons Rosarium Health is able to do what it does today. If you are interested in learning more about what home modifications can be done for you or a loved one to make it more accessible check us out here!

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