ADA Pioneer Justin Dart Memorialized in a Giant Hero Puppet.
To commemorate the extraordinary life of Justin Dart, widely recognized as the “father of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” the Detroit-based Matrix Theatre Company is creating a giant street puppet in his likeness for use in demonstrations and parades.
The ADA became the law of the land on July 26, 1990 through the tireless efforts of trailblazers like Dart, and the puppet will ready in time to mark the 20th anniversary of this landmark legislation. The Dart puppet will make its debut during the U.S. Social Forum, an event held in Detroit on June 22-26 which brings people together to solve global and ecological crises, and will be featured in Chicago ’s 7th Annual Disability Pride Parade on July 24.
The Matrix Theatre Company “uses the transformative power of theatre to change lives, build community and foster social justice,” and has a tradition of calling for a united community effort to see their puppet projects to fruition. Once the $7,500 is raised and the tribute is completed, the Dart puppet will join the Matrix ranks of puppet activists like Martin Luther King, Ceaser Chavez and Mother Jones.
"If the giant Justin Dart puppet is used to communicate his cry for everyone to 'Lead the Revolution of Individual Empowerment' particularly to youth with disabilities, it would be awesome, and extremely meaningful and valuable," said Yoshiko Dart, his wife.
Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr. was born on August 29, 1930 in Chicago . He contracted polio at the age of 18 and, as a result, spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Also called “the godfather of the disabilities rights movement,” Dart lead the movement for more than three decades and was a staunch advocate for human rights. In fact, his first foray into social activism was during college when he organized a pro-integration student group at the whites-only University of Houston.
He made name for himself on the national stage, receiving five presidential appointments and numerous honors including the Hubert Humphrey Award of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest award that can be bestowed on a civilian. A brilliant entrepreneur, he began and ran several highly successful companies and devoted much of his wealth to further causes of social justice, calling himself “a little PAC for empowerment.”
While his personal crusade came to an end on June 21, 2002 at the age of 71 from congestive heart failure related to complications of post-polio syndrome, his legacy lives on. He left us with this challenge, “I call for solidarity among all who love justice, all who love life, to create a revolution that will empower every single human being to govern his or her life, to govern the society and to be fully productive of life quality for self and for all people.