On September 11, we joined with millions of Americans and others across the world who live with disabilities, their families, and the people who work to support them in celebrating the life of Marca Bristo who died on September 8, 2019. Marca’s remarkable life accomplishments make her one of the most important and impactful voices in American history for equality and civil rights for those with disabilities.
In 1977, at age 23, Marca became paralyzed from the chest down in a diving accident in Lake Michigan. Having become dependent on a wheelchair for her mobility, Marca quickly came to learn about the multitude of life-stifling challenges and obstacles people with disabilities faced in our society at that time.
Over subsequent decades Marca advocated for change and increased awareness, lobbied elected officials at all levels of government, organized a national grassroots movement, and launched protests culminating most notably with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
The positive impacts of Marca’s work in the lives of those who live with disabilities cannot be overstated. We at Hillside serve 59 local residents who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They benefit every day from Marca’s remarkable life and work.
Marca was vehement in her advocacy for hydraulic lifts on buses in her home city of Chicago that allowed people in wheelchairs to ride the bus. Because of her work, those lifts now come standard in any bus and other forms of public transportation. Without these improvements and so many others that took root in Marca’s advocacy, Hillside residents would not be able to access their community, they would not be able to achieve the fulfilling lives we all deserve.
Marca Bristo helped our country understand that people with disabilities should not be forgotten, left out, or neglected. We have come a long way in meeting the needs of our neighbors who live with disabilities, but more work needs to be done.
At Hillside, we are proud to be a part of Marca’s movement for equality and access which continues today. We are also thankful to so many in the Santa Barbara community who join us in supporting our work and making the rights and needs of people with disabilities a priority.
Craig Olson is president/CEO of Hillside Santa Barbara, an independent nonprofit organization founded in 1945, providing medical support and empathetic caregiving for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.