Polio Place

A service of Post-Polio Health International

Justin Dart, Jr.

Born: August 29, 1930
Died: June 22, 2002

Major Contribution:

Justin Dart was an international human rights activist and leader of the international disability rights movement for three decades. His leadership and accomplishments earned him the distinction of “the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act” and “the godfather of the disability rights movement.”

Other Information:

Brief Biography: Justin Dart was born in Chicago, Illinois, into a wealthy and prominent family.* He attended private schools, including Phillips Academy Andover. He graduated from the University of Houston with a BS in Political Science (1953) and an MS in History (1954).

Dart contracted polio in 1948 and was treated at the Seventh Day Adventist Medical University in Los Angeles. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

He left law school to go into business in the US, Mexico (bowling alleys) and Japan, where he started Japan Tupperware (1963-65). He quit after a disagreement in regard to management with the parent company. It was during this time he met his wife, Yoshiko, who was his constant companion and who also had dedicated her life to human and disability rights.

Nippon Greetings Cards, Ltd, an experimental venture involving the employment of and fund raising for the disabled, failed in 1966. Dart’s resume dated 1982 describes his work from 1968-1982 as a “private transitional independent living program involving teaching, guidance and career planning for more than 45 disadvantaged and disabled persons.”

The couple’s activism in the US started in Texas in 1974. In 1980-85, he was active on the Texas Governor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dart to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability. At their own expense, the couple met with activists in every state in the United States, developing a grassroots network that would be soldiers in the battle for a national disability policy.

In 1986, Dart was appointed to head the Rehabilitation Services Administration, a $3 billion federal agency that oversees a vast array of programs for disabled people. Dart called for radical changes, and for including people with disabilities in every aspect of designing, implementing, and monitoring rehabilitation programs.

Facing resistance from the bureaucracy, Dart dropped a bombshell when he testified at a public hearing before Congress that the RSA was “a vast, inflexible federal system which, like the society it represents, still contains a significant portion of individuals who have not yet overcome obsolete, paternalistic attitudes about disability.”

Dart was asked to resign his position, but remained a supporter of both Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Again in 1988, he, as co- chair of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities, visited every state including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia, holding public forums attended by more than 30,000 people promoting the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1989, Bush appointed Dart as Chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. He then attempted to transform the group to be more than “hire the handicapped.”

Dart was on the stage wearing his signature cowboy hat when President George H. W. Bush, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 20, 1990.

He next turned his energies to passage of universal health care and to defending the ADA and the Individuals with Education Disabilities Act (IDEA) after the 1994 Republican wins in Congress. He helped found Justice For All to educate and mobilize advocates all over the country through email. Frustrated with the Republican party of his prominent family, Dart publically supported Bill Clinton in 1996. ["Statement of Conscience"]

Health problems in 1997 curtailed his travels, but his passion for human rights never faltered. He continued to educate and encourage advocates with his cries of “Lead On!” and “get into politics as if your life depended on it. It does.” He is remembered for his reassuring closing of “I love you.”

Dart received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1998 from President Bill Clinton.

* His mother (Ruth) was the daughter of the founder of the Walgreen Drugstore chain, and his father (Justin) rose rapidly in the company. Even though his parents divorced when he was 9 years old, his grandfather left a large share of the company to his former son-in-law. He later formed Dart Industries and was part of Ronald Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet.”

June 2011/Joan L. Headley/Post-Polio Health International

Location of Papers: His papers are not available.

Description of Papers:

Major Articles: Justin Dart, Jr.


View All Artifacts

Back to Top