News from Northwest ADA Center – Idaho
How “Wheelchair Genius” came to be
About a year ago, the Institute on Disability Culture published Ed Roberts: Wheelchair Genius, a middle school age biography. In the past week, an email correspondent asked what it was like to write a book for a younger audience. The authors first response was it was a labor of love. But the more he thought about it, it felt like a longer tale. So, here’s at least some of the rest of the story….
Twenty-six years ago Steven E. Brow moved from Oklahoma to California to work at the World Institute on Disability. At the time, Ed Roberts was the WID President and while he had shaken his hand once or twice, he didn’t know him. One of the many perks of working at WID was getting to know Ed and many in his circle, including his mother Zona (96 and still going). In 1995, Ed suddenly passed away. His death was part of a series of people Steven knew who were then leaving the planet. He thought we had better write about these folks before they were forgotten.
In New Mexico, Steve became involved in working with the public schools as a poet and writer. In one of those gigs, he spent a week teaching students about Ed and having them j write about him. It was a great success and gave him the idea to do a shorter biography about Ed geared for younger students. Then he contacted a number of publishers to see if they might have interest in the book. He was mostly ignored, but those few who responded did not foresee an audience. So he put out the book on CD and promoted it a bit primarily via email. There it stayed for many years.
When he retired 2014, he began to think again about this book on Ed and whether to try and get it in print form. At the same time, a friend he met at a conference asked about the status of the book and suggested that 2015 would be a great year to get this book out, as part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the ADA. And the 20th anniversary of Ed’s death.
He thought he could get a book version out fairly quickly, but he also wanted some help in making it look more professional and got the help of a graphic designer. So not long after, he sent out an edited version of the book, which he thought was close to a final version.
How wrong he was! They ended up doing about 20 versions of the book!
Some editing was minor, misspelled words or typos (including in the 1st published version, which didn’t last long). More significant was when he learned a photo He’d been using for years had been mislabeled. Then followed a search for a photo that would better represent what he wanted to say and was accurate. He finally found another photo, which, after receiving permission to use, is now in the book.
Steven was also having some interesting and surprising conversations with folks about Ed’s role as a Rolling Quad (or not). That led him to research in the wonderful University of California at Berkeley Bancroft Library “Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement” online collection of primary sources, including many oral interviews with folks who knew, lived and worked with Ed in the 1960s and beyond.
He learned that despite an ongoing debate about whether Ed was actually a “Rolling Quad,” which was mostly about timelines, that indeed he was, according to an interview with one of his contemporaries. He also learned how much more there is to learn, and continue to read through this resource.
Two people who knew Ed well, his mother, Zona, and Joan Leon, who worked with Ed for many years, also read the revised manuscript. They both suggested important changes and corrections. Then, about a year ago the book was published. As often happens, life moved quickly and the combination of the mislabeled photo and other things led to a lack of the typical promotion for the book.
But another year is here, we are celebrating the 26th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and it seems like a great time to remind folks of what is an important biography of a disability rights pioneer for a crucial audience—young folks.
Those who may be curious about the book, Ed, and why the specific subtitle, (we hope you’ll read the book:) it’s most easily available from online booksellers.
For more information about ADA Technical Assistance visit the NW ADA Center Idaho website: nwadacenter.org/idaho
Phone: Voice and Text 208-841-9422
Idaho Relay Service: 711