A disability rights historical exhibit in Berkeley, CA

The disabled are generally not perceived as assertive. In fact, we are often depicted as vulnerable and more delicate members of society. But in 1977, a group of disabled individuals broke all stereotypes and took over a federal building in San Francisco. The Section 504 Sit-In, as it’s now referred to, helped pave the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990.

To honor and celebrate this often overlooked piece of American history, the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University has put together an exhibit called “Patient No More,” which can be viewed at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA.

“Knowing that the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act was approaching in 2015,” said Emily Beitiks, Associate Director at the Paul K. Longmore Center, “an exhibit to celebrate disability and the disability rights movement seemed like a way to forward our mission of promoting empowering stories of what people with disabilities bring to the table.”

The exhibit, which received a Cal Humanities Stories Grant and support from the East Bay Community Foundation, features an amazing collection of photos that beautifully capture every facet of this part of disability history.

“We were extremely fortunate that in 1977, two photographers understood the importance of documenting this important moment in history: Anthony Tusler and HolLynn D'Lil,” said Beitiks. “Their photographs are beautiful, and together they help show the range of experiences that made up the sit-in -- from the boredom to the extreme frustration, from the exhaustion to the overwhelming satisfaction, to the pride when they left the building victorious.”

The exhibit also features video interviews of people at the sit in, which were produced by San Francisco State University students and are fully accessible.

While some people in the San Francisco Bay Area may have heard of the Section 504 Sit-In, what many of them may not know is that the LGBT community had a role in this civil rights movement.

“The focus of the exhibit is queer history, as well as disability history,” Beitiks shared. “A large number of the leaders were queer people. A gay men's group called the Butterfly Brigade lent their walkie-talkies to the protesters so they could get their messages out of the building. And one 504 protester remembered that inside the building, the queer women threw the best parties.”

“There's a shared experience of stigma and discrimination. LGBT people and disabled people alike aren't necessarily born into a family like themselves, so finding a community is essential to allowing for a celebration of difference and pride. The issue of bathrooms provides one specific example of overlap: people with disabilities and transgender/genderqueer people have united in their shared agreement that the built environment can be oppressive to certain body types and their needs,” continued Beitiks.

The exhibit will be available from July 2015 to December 2015 at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA. In 2016, the exhibit will go on tour.

For those of you who don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the entire collection can be found online at PatientNoMore.org. The website is fully accessible and showcases the exact exhibit that can be found at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA.

Cathrine Kudlick, who is openly bisexual and directs the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability, also invites everyone to visit the institute’s website at LongMoreInstitute.sfsu.edu.

Belo Cipriani is a freelance journalist, the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams, and a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind. He was voted “Best Disability Advocate” in the Bay Area in 2015 by SF Weekly. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com.