“My advocacy for disability rights is not just for a marginal group of people; they’re for society as a whole. Disability affects all of us. It’s time that we normalize and accept it rather than perceive it to be at the margins of our society," Marca Bristo told Chicago Magazine in 2008.
Marca Bristo had an accident that rendered her paralyzed from the waist down when she was 23 years old, the injury made her a wheelchair user. Marca disability rights advocacy started at her workplace, Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital, where she realized that there is a huge disparity in the way women with disabilities were treated, she spoke to her supervisors about it and changes were made.
"Bristo touched the lives of many people with disabilities in the country, most especially, here in Chicago, a city she lived in and loved dearly, and beyond," Karen Tamley, commissioner of Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in Chicago.
Bristo established the Access Living in 1980, the disability rights organization is known for granting assistance to people with disabilities in Chicago. Today, the organization helps about 2,800 people each year.
“Marca touched the lives of countless people throughout the country, many of whom don’t realize the impact she’s had," Andres Gallegos, Access Living board chair said.
In 1984, Bristo and several other people with disabilities chained themselves to CTA buses, later filing a lawsuit against the CTA that led to the implementation of bus lifts and later other accessibility measures on buses and at rail stations.
Bristo joined other disability rights advocate to draft the Americans With Disabilities Act, civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities which was passed into law in 1990. Bristo was part of the first fair housing program to address disability discrimination, she fought for the inclusion of disability issues in domestic violence law, she also helped implement the requirement for all televisions to have close-captioned decoders.
Andres Gallegos said, "Bristo co-founded the National Council on Independent Living in 1982. President Bill Clinton appointed her as chair of the National Council on Disability from 1994 to 2002. She participated in the negotiation for the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the U.S. adopted in 2006, and was appointed to the Ford Foundation board of trustees in June 2019."
Bristo is survived by her husband, Bob Kettlewell; their children, Sam and Madeline; a sister, Gail; and a granddaughter.
Image credit: CEFutcher