Disability rights leader Justin Dart dies

Disability rights leader Justin Dart dies

By By Rod Myers

Justin Dart, Jr., known as the Martin Luther King, Jr. of the disability civil rights movement and the father of the Americans With Disabilities Act, died on the morning of June 22nd, with his wife Yoshiko at his side.

After 50 years of advocacy for the civil rights of oppressed people in America and the rest of the world, Justin Dart, Jr. spent his final days at home, where he completed his manifesto.

“Death is not a tragedy,” wrote Justin Dart before he passed on. “It is not an evil from which we must escape. Death is as natural as birth. Like childbirth, death is often a time of fear and pain, but also of profound beauty of celebration of the mystery and majesty, which is life pushing its horizons towards oneness with the truth of Mother Universe. The days of dying carry a special responsibility. There is a great potential to communicate values in a uniquely powerful way—the person who dies demonstrating for civil rights.

“I call for solidarity among all who love justice, all who love life to create a revolution that will empower every single human being to govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive of lilfe quality for self and for all.”

Justin worked tirelessly till the end; he made four speeches the week before last. Justin fought hard to share his dream of dignity, equality and empowerment for all those with disabilities.

Mark Smith, a disability activist, witnessed Justin receiving the Medal of Freedom on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday January 1999 at the White House East Room ceremony. Mark recalled, “When he presented the medal, President Clinton hugged Justin and said simply, “I love you.” After coming down from the stage, Justin took the medal from around his neck and placed it on his wife, Yoshiko, who has shared fully every contribution he has made. This gesture of love and respect reportedly brought tears to Hillary Clinton’s eyes.

Justin lived in his home with the assistance of an attendant and other support services. He was just one of millions of Americans who preferred to live in their own communities than experience the indignities of a so-called “life” in an institution. But the reality is that Justin could afford some of the support he needed; most Americans can’t afford these services and don’t have the option of living a better life at home. Justin fought hard for the rights of the disabled to be able to live on their own.

Justin was born in Chicago, Ill. in 1930. He contracted polio in 1948 and shared his life with wheelchairs ever since.

Justin was a graduate of the University of Houston with a B.S. in history and education and went on to get his M.A. in history in 1954. He married Yoshiko Saji in 1963.


1980-1993: Five presidential, one congressional and five gubernatorial appointments in the area of disability policy by both Republicans and Democrats. 1989 to present: member of the board of trustees, the Dole Foundation. Chairman of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, 1989-93.

Chairperson of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities, 1988-90. Founder and CEO of three successful corporations including Japan Tupperware Ltd., beginning with four employees in 1963, growing to 25,000 in just a few years. Founded the first organization to promote racial integration of the then-segregated University of Houston, 1952. Advocated for the rights of students, women, blacks, Hispanics and persons with disabilities in Mexico, Japan, Vietnam and the United States, 1957 to present.

The list of accomplishments is too long to continue, and note that Justin Dart, Jr. has received more than 30 national and international awards and recognitions.

Justin Dart, Jr., 8/29/30 – 6/22/02

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.

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