Patient No More: Celebrating the Disabled Rights Movement's Historic 1977 Sit-in (Events)

Gar Smith
Tuesday November 03, 2015 - 11:53:00 AM

Runs until December 18 at Berkeley's Ed Roberts Campus (3075 Adeline St.) at the Ashby BART Station

There are many iconic moments in the history of the US civil rights struggle. There was the Pettus Bridge. There was Stonewall. There was Sproul Hall. And then there was the Section 504 Sit-in that took over a government building in San Francisco.

If you aren't familiar with the last historic watershed, the Section 504 Sit-in marks the day in April 1977 when more than 150 disabled men and women did something unheard of. On crutches and in wheelchairs, they converged on the US Federal Building, struggled up to the fourth floor and began a 25-day sit-in at the office of the Health, Education, and Welfare department to demand that the Carter Administration implement a four-year-old law protecting the rights of people with disabilities.




If you think it's an inconvenience to spend a single night on the hard floor of a federal office building, imagine doing it for nearly a month. Now imagine that you arrived at the sit-in courtesy of a wheelchair. 

The protesters didn't bring food to last for a month-long siege so they were supplied by supporters on the outside—including the Black Panthers, who showed up with home-cooked meals. 

The sit-in galvanized disabled Americans across the nation and is still remembered as "the heart and soul of the disability rights movement." 

The specific target was Section 504 of a 1973 law intended to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities. Finally, on April 28, 1977 (with disabled activists still holding their ground in the Federal Building), HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano signed the Section 504 regulations—a major victory on the path to passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which provided full protections against discrimination. 

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. 

The staff at the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University spent three years sifting through the archives of UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library compiling rare photos, newsletters, leaflets and protest buttons. The resulting exhibit, "Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights," serves as a fitting tribute to the rightly impatient disabled crusaders who staged a sit-in that got America to sit-up and take notice. 

The exhibition, mounted on a collection of rolling walls, displays photos and rare momentos from the 70s, along with antique office furniture and artifacts from that disabled-insensitive era. The displays (which fill the lobby of the Ed Robert Campus) offer stunning—and occasionally emotional—evocations of the challenges that lead to the "Section 504 Sit-in," a remarkable but previously overlooked moment in U.S. history. 

In addition to the printed material, the exhibits also feature video screens that come alive at the touch of a button with background information on the sit-in, scenes from the extended occupation, reports on the spread of other protests across the country, moments of political theater, interviews with occupiers and activists, "untold stories" and, finally, "victory speeches and protest songs." (See video clips below for one of these enthusiastic hand-signed sing-alongs.) 

A quote from organizer Kitty Cone, emblazoned on one of the exhibit panels, reads: "In the face of government ignorance, we persisted and won." In another quote, activist leader Judy Heumann recalls how "blind people, deaf people, wheelchair users, disabled veterans, people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities and many others, all came together. . . . We overcame years of parochialism." Also on display is a popular campaign button that insists: "Nothing about us, without us." 

If you are planning a visit, first check with the campus calendar since the exhibit is sometimes moved into temporary storage to allow for other public events. 

To access the Ed Roberts Campus Patient No More audio description track, click here. For the traveling exhibit audio description, click here

We Shall Not Be Moved 

ASL interpreting by Sherry Hicks 


Patient No More: Opening Remarks 


Opening remarks by Catherine Kudlick, director of the Longmore Institute with featured appearances by several participants in the 1977 protests, inclulding Ron Washington, Jeff Moyer, Dennis Billups, Bruce Oka, and Corbett O'Toole. 

Traveling Exhibit 

In addition to the in-house exhibit, there is a separate traveling show that is bringing the story of the Section 504 Sit-in to communities around the Bay Area. Here is a list of the remaining venues: 

Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, November 4 - 12 

Contemporary Jewish Museum, November 15 

Notre Dame High School (SJ), November 16 - 30 

Marin County Office of Education, December 1 - 15