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Joan Leon


My introduction to the disability movement was in 1973 when I joined the newly-created Center for Independent Living (CIL). I was attracted to CIL because I believed in what Ed Roberts and his associates were doing and knew my fundraising and PR experience could help. For me it was the start of a long and fascinating relationship with CIL, the IL movement and Ed.

A year after Ed was named Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation (DOR) by Governor Jerry Brown, I joined the agency as Assistant Director and worked with Ed on an array of State and Federal issues including gaining perpetual state funding for independent centers, writing an Independent Living section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and setting up DOR’s first client rights program. In 1982, Judy Heumann joined us to work on more federal legislation and the expansion of the IL movement worldwide.

When Jerry Brown’s two terms ended in 1983, Judy, Ed and I founded the World Institute on Disability. Judy and I were Co-Directors for many years, and when she moved on to the Clinton Administration, I because Executive Vice President. When Ed died in 1995, I became President.

It was shortly after Ed’s death in 1995 that I joined a group of disability leaders and representatives of the City of Berkeley and the University of California to plan a memorial to Ed’s life and work. We considered many options from a street in his name, a postage stamp, to, finally, a facility -—actually a campus—where disability organizations like WID and CIL could co-locate and work together. I co-chaired the ERC until 1997, when I took on the task of leading its capital campaign, a job that lasted until 2010 when the ERC opened its doors.

Since then, I’ve worked as a consulted with WID, CIL and other organizations, and served on several Boards including CIL, WID, and the Shakespeare Fellowship Society. Now I’m back again on CIL’s Board and am proud of having been part of the team that selected Ted Jackson as our new Executive Director. Now I’m looking forward to helping with CIL’s 50th Anniversary. It’s a task that’s dear to me because it’s also my 50th anniversary of being a part of CIL and the IL/Civil Rights Movement.

Joan Leon
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