Disabilities service center opens in South Berkeley

Photo: The Ed Roberts Campus opened in South Berkeley as a disabilities service center.
Firke-Selam Habebo/Staff
The Ed Roberts Campus opened in South Berkeley as a disabilities service center.

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Ed Roberts Campus Grand Opening
Ed Roberts Campus Grand Opening

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Members of the disabled community, elected officials and city staff came together at the Ed Roberts Campus ribbon-cutting ceremony in South Berkeley on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the creation of the disabilities service center.

The fully accessible campus, located near the Ashby BART Station, took about 15 years to plan and construct - costing about $46 million - and was funded by public and private donors such as AC Transit, BART and AT&T. The event, which had more than 1,000 people in attendance, featured opening remarks from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, speakers including Mayor Tom Bates and the awarding of the AT&T Community and Leadership Award, given to Loretta Walker, vice president of External Affairs Bay Area at AT&T.

"This is a testimony to the unity of the community and services for the disabled," Lee said. "It is an example of the creative initiatives of this community in itself."

The one-stop disabilities service center is named for Ed Roberts, who became paralyzed at age 14 after contracting polio and went on to launch the independent living movement in Berkeley in the 1960s. He also cofounded the World Institute on Disability and become director of the California Department of Rehabilitation long before he passed away in 1995. The center offers several services for disabled community members, including yoga and pilates classes, computer training programs and occupation consultation.

"The wonderful accessibility and international design of the campus is what Ed would have been proud to see," said Zona Roberts, Ed's mother. "He would be off planning something else if he were here right now."

The two-story building houses several different organizations under one roof - including the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program and The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired - and is equipped with a wheelchair-accessible ramp connecting the two floors and an elevator that has additional buttons within reach of seated passengers.

"It is universally designed and suitable professionally for non-profit employees and a place for the disabled community to feel good about rolling into the building," said Yomi Wrong, executive director of the Center for Independent Living, another office that will be located on the campus. "It makes them feel empowered, respected and visible."

Dmitri Belser, president of the Ed Roberts Campus, said he felt that the building spoke for itself and specially thanked Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, her legislative aide Caleb Dardick and Bates, who made strides in the movement to build the campus, in his closing remarks.

"We have been planning for the campus for 15 years. It made me so happy when Zona was speaking because this was quite a process," said Belser, who is legally blind himself. "It is incredible that all these small disability agencies came together."

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