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In Memoriam: Justin Dart, Jr.
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Photo of Justin DartJustin Dart, Jr., a legendary advocate for disability and human rights, died June 22 from respiratory failure at his home in Washington, D.C.  He was 71 years old. Dart was a leader in the disability rights movement for over 30 years and was an instrumental force behind the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, a landmark law protecting the civil rights of persons with disabilities. He was widely regarded as the "father of the ADA."

At age 18, Dart contracted polio, which left his legs paralyzed. He attended college at the University of Houston, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. In college, Dart became involved in the civil rights movement and founded an organization to end the racial segregation of the university he attended. Throughout his life, he was active in promoting and protecting the rights of women, persons of color, and gays and lesbians, in addition to people with disabilities.

A successful entrepreneur, Dart established several businesses in Mexico and Japan during the 1950s and 1960s, but turned away from these ventures so that he and his wife, Yoshiko, could fully devote themselves to human rights causes. In the 1980s, he was appointed by presidents Reagan and Bush to a number of government posts, including membership on the National Council on Disability, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Service Administration, and chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. He also headed the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities. He remained a strong proponent of the ADA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and other legislative milestones after his service in government, and helped found an organization, "Justice for All," to protect the achievements of the disability rights movement. In 1998, President Clinton awarded Dart the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

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Last Modified: 12/05/2008