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Marca Bristo (1953–2019), advocate championed Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990

by Legacy Staff

Marca Bristo, advocate for the disabled, who championed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, died Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Chicago, after a battle with cancer. She was 66.

Marca Bristo was a disability advocate who helped draft the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. The landmark legislation prohibits disability-based discrimination and requires reasonable accommodations for disabled employees and public access to buildings and transportation.

Bristo was paralyzed from the chest down following a 1977 accident when she was 23. She lost her job as a nurse, her health insurance, and encountered difficulties accessing buildings and using public transportation. She dedicated herself to advocating for independent living for the disabled in Chicago. She founded the nonprofit Access Living in 1980. She traveled the world in her motorized wheelchair, meeting with policy makers and changing the way people thought about those with disabilities.


She is survived by her husband, Robert Kettlewell, her children, Samuel and Madeline, and her sister, Gail Bristo Smith.

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Died: Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019 (Who else died on September 8?)

Details of death: Died in Chicago of cancer at the age of 66.

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Advocating for the A.D.A.: It took a grass-roots effort to get the U.S. Congress to consider the Americans With Disabilities Act. Bristo and her fellow disability advocates faced staunch opposition from interests concerned with the costs of compliance with the new regulations.

“She was one of the strongest advocates, from the grass-roots side. To a great extent, without the grass-roots effort, we wouldn’t have gotten the A.D.A.,” remarked former Congressman Tony Coelho, who introduced the original A.D.A. bill in 1988.

Notable quote: “The things we’ve been advocating are not just for a marginal group of people; they’re for the 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,” she told Chicago Magazine in a 2008 interview.

What people said about her: “She reframed the disability experience as a civil rights issue, as opposed to a medical issue… She was a force of nature, in both her personal life and political life, she was a role model for millions of people with disabilities in our country.” —Edward M. Kennedy Jr., son of Ted Kennedy and Chairman of the American Association of People With Disabilities

Full obituary: The New York Times

Related lives:

  • Carrie Ann Lucas (1971–2019), disability rights advocate
  • Bernice Sandler (1928–2019), “Godmother of Title IX”
  • Luis Alvarez (1965–2019), 9/11 responder, fought for those exposed to cancer agents at Ground Zero


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