The People’s Sidewalks – Boom California

by Bess Williamson

From Boom Spring 2012, Vol. 2, No. 1

Designing Berkeley’s Wheelchair Route, 1970-1974

A story of Disability Rights, although rarely included in accounts of the Sixties in Berkeley, runs alongside the history of protest against University of California policies, the War in Vietnam and the establishment in general. During these tumultuous years, a community of mostly young disabled persons, many of them students or graduates of the University, left a mark not only on the politics of the city, but the physical landscape as well. From 1970 to 1974, the City built the first planned, wheelchair-accessible route in the United States. These sloping curbs—varying in design over time—created the physical foundation for one of the largest and most active communities of disabled people in America.

Cover of The Independent showing Berkeley’s “Wheelchair Route” designers: from right, Hale Zukas; his attendant and collaborator Eric Dibner; community organizer Kitty Cone; and an unidentified helper. COURTESY OF THE CENTER FOR INDEPENDENT LIVING.

Berkeley was host to a growing populace with disabilities in the 1960s, including people with significant paralysis due to spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, and polio. This community centered around a small group of students who lived in a special dormitory [...]

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