30 years in the fight for equality 

 

For a transcript of the video above, please go here.

This post was written by Claire Duncan, social media intern. Our thanks to Claire for all of her work on behalf of our organization.

After three decades at the helm, our Executive Director Bob Joondeph is preparing to step aside. His retirement is a big loss for our organization, the people who we serve, and the broader movement that we’re a part of.

Bob’s vision and leadership propelled communities across the state to rethink how we set up our schools, workplaces, places of business, and public structures to ensure that people with disabilities truly belong.

We’re taking a look back at Bob’s journey as a change-maker and the civil rights history that he helped make here in Oregon.

As Bob liked to remind us, the fight for disability rights is part of the larger struggle for equality. The role that he played in that ongoing struggle will have a lasting impact.

Want to share a note of thanks? You can post your message to Bob on our Facebook page.

Head shot of Bob Joondeph from the 1970's.Q: How did you first become involved with Disability Rights Oregon?

A: I came to Oregon as a Vista Volunteer lawyer in the Klamath County Legal Aid office. I believed my legal background could do some good for others.

As part of Oregon’s legal aid service, I helped develop the first database of legal materials, which allowed lawyers to access more information than ever before.

In 1981, I joined the board of Disability Rights Oregon. Some in my family experienced mental illness, so working with people with disabilities was always very important to me. At that time, before the ADA, there were significantly less protection for people with disabilities.

Q: What have been some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in disability rights during your time with Disability Rights Oregon?

A: The ADA passing in 1990 was the most significant. At that time, we only had two federal grants that were specifically earmarked to support people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

I’m proud to say DRO now has ten federal grants which cover many different types of disabilities and issues. The organization has grown considerably, as a whole.

Bob Joondeph, Governor Barbara Roberts, Eva Kutas, Ella Johnson, Mary Byrkit, Senator Bob Shoemaker signing Mandatory Abuse Reporting Bill 1991

Q: Every civil rights movement has a turning point that’s crucial to its evolution. What was that turning point for disability rights?

A: I’d say it was the movement away from institutionalization toward community inclusion. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, many children diagnosed with disabilities were given to the state and placed in institutions at a very young age.

They were never expected or taught how to live outside of these institutions or allowed to learn the skills to be independent.

The closing of state institutions created much more visibility for people with disabilities and allowed many to learn how to live independently.

Institutions created a distinct boundary separating people, which only reinforced societal ideas that people with disabilities were not capable of living on their own.

The closing of state institutions created much more visibility for people with disabilities and created opportunities to live independently. This also fueled increased public awareness.

Bob Joondeph, Governor Barbara Roberts, Eva Kutas, Ella Johnson, Mary Byrkit, Senator Bob Shoemaker signing Mandatory Abuse Reporting Bill 1991

Q: Speaking of awareness, what have been some successful strategies for making the lived experience of persons with disabilities more visible?  

A: This is crucial. Visibility helps create change. I’m proud that DRO helps to increase visibility through the law, the media, and its publications.

Q: What does the future look like, for you and for Disability Rights Oregon?

A: Behavioral health services for children are still extremely, and chronically, underfunded.

Many articles have exposed how this results in the segregation of students with disabilities in schools – often due to a lack of local of resources, and sometimes due to the school’s unwillingness to adapt. This is one area where I hope to see significant improvements.

And my retirement doesn’t mark the end of my activism! I’ll enjoy my time at home, but I’d also like to be active in new contexts. I’ll certainly stay close to issues, like disability rights, that are important to me.

Disability Rights Oregon's Board of Directors posing outside of a building.

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