Justin Dart, Jr. - A Peek of Insight


by: Karen Stone

photo of K. Stoneblank spaceBorn and raised in San Francisco, Karen Stone, now 53, studied photography, and later obtained a B.A. in Communications from Antioch College. She then worked as a professional photographer for over twelve years in California. Later, upon entering the marketing field, Ms. Stone made use of her photography, writing, and business skills. After relocating to Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA), she worked in marketing architectural/engineering services until slowed down by Multiple Sclerosis.

 At a critical juncture for the disability community in America where a vast majority of the early disability rights activists have since passed away and the new wave of freedom fighters are still discovering their bugle calls and rhythms, we have a wondrous and tireless leader in Justin Dart, Jr. bridging the gap.

Long-time close friend and collaborator, Fred Fay, says of Justin, "Justin Dart is one of the most passionate, consistent philosopher-politicians of human rights and human responsibilities in America today."

Because of his fervent activism, some have called Justin "the father of the ADA." But like many of the great civil right leaders, Justin's humble shadow will be quick to deny this.

Regardless, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the nondisabled can learn so much from this deeply experienced warrior and his wife, Yoshiko. Both have been in the trenches for years. Yet, weary as they may be, they continue to exude a constant gentleness, love, and appreciation for all around them.

In fact, White House disability liaison officer, Jonathan Young, tells this story about Justin, "Before I began my work in the White House, Mr. Dart told me that one of his favorite articles about him was entitled 'What's So Great About Justin Dart?' It seemed a strange selection to me, given all that he has accomplished and contributed. The article speculated about how various achievements might be explained away. But that was only to get to the final point: What's so great about Justin Dart? Answer: he loves people. That has nothing to do with resources. That's just who Justin Dart is -- to the core. His ability to love people, all people, is the symbol, to borrow one of his phrases, of a true American patriot. Thank you, Justin, for your leadership as the 'elder statesman' of the disability community. Your wonderful smile and eloquent words will always go with me. We love you!"

Another touching story about both Justin and Yoshiko is told by Mark Smith, a disability activist who is part of Dart's Justice For All organization. As one of the lucky witnesses to Justin receiving the Medal of Freedom on Martin Luther King's birthday (January 15, 1999) at the White House East Room ceremony, Mark says the following:

When he presented the medal, President Clinton hugged Justin and said simply, "I love you." After coming down from the stage, Justin took the Medal from around his neck and placed it on his wife, Yoshiko, who has shared fully every contribution he has made. This gesture of love and respect reportedly brought tears to Hillary Clinton's eyes.

Unless otherwise noted, Justin's (verbatim) responses to the below questions may seem a bit cryptic, but as a fighter covering immense territory that, like everyone in the disability community well knows and does, probably also involves expending an awesome amount of time and energy to his condition as well, this style is most understandable.

Karen G. Stone: What is your take on being a PWD today compared to 10 years ago (pre-ADA days)?

Justin Dart: It's much better.

KGS: You were at the then-President Bush's side at the signing of the ADA into law in 1990. Has the ADA exceeded or failed to reach your expectations you had back then?

JD: Far exceeded excepting for recent bad court decisions.

KGS: What are the most important things a PWD can do today to improve the lot of the disability community as a whole?

JD: [In a March 1998 issue of the now defunct MAINSTREAM magazine, Justin says the following]: I propose that we of the disability community lead the revolution of empowerment...[this] is not empty rhetoric. There is a distinct and vital difference between society/government that empowers people, and a society/government that provides for them and regulates them for their own good...empowerment is when government joins with business, labor, religion, and individual citizens to guarantee every person the tool to govern, to produce and [to] live the best life possible for self and for all...we [PWDs] have unique knowledge and experience to offer. We have the responsibility to lead.

KGS: Given the number of years you have been involved in disability activism, what advice would you give to someone newly disabled?

JD: [From a speech Justin gave at the Task Force Youth Conference in Wash., DC, July 22, 1999]: Get into empowerment. Get into politics as if your life depended upon it. It does. And the lives of all humans in the 21st Century...become a politician for empowerment in your living room, in your community...vote. Educate others to vote for self and for all. But voting alone won't do it. Winning politics is a 365 day [affair]. Work for the party and the candidates of your choice. Volunteer, advocate, lead, contribute...

KGS: Some PWDs are, and remain, very angry and/or bitter about their predicament. How would you advise someone to channel those very personal feelings into a healthier activity?

JD: Join ADAPT or your local advocacy group.

KGS: Considering the current, raging debate on whether to include or to bar ablebodied individuals from taking prominent roles in disability organizations, what is your take on this?

JD: Include ablebodied people who have a passion for justice, but maintain a majority of people with disabilities.

KGS: As a comrade in the disability movement, I have chosen the gentle persuasion route of activism. Though by no means am I any less appalled or less angered about the treatment of PWDs in our society, I have been chastised by members of our community for not being strident enough. Though fully cognizant of the urgency -- and the fact that we cannot wait forever for people to wake up to the fact that discrimination of PWDs continues to be both blatantly rampant and overt -- I feel any vented anger leads to a didactism that can turn potential supporters off. Yet, organizations like ADAPT are doing a magnificent job. Where do you position yourself on this seesawing continuum and how do you find a balance here?

JD: There are many roles. Follow your conscious.

Regarding the many different approaches, KGS further quotes disability activist, Maggie Dee:

[As she paraphrases]: Justin Dart said to me during a private phone call about a year or so ago [that] there are some of us who are willing to look beyond the negative nuances to the bigger picture. The leadership must keep their eye on the goal, not how we get there. All groups and organizations, as they find their way, struggle with convergent ideas and ways to arrive at the destination of success. We are no different. We must remain one as we strive to set our goals, but we must not stifle the opinions of our brothers and sisters who, with our help, can better understand the power of consensus no matter how difficult it is to arrive at that desired place.


KGS: What is your favorite quote?

JD: William Markham's OUTWITTED: He drew a circle that left me out - Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout, But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in.

KGS: Who do you admire the most and why?

JD: Yoshiko Dart. She is the most responsible human being I ever met.

KGS: What is your favorite book and why?

JD: The New Testament. Revolution in beautiful words.

KGS: What do you most enjoy doing (that is unrelated to disability activism)?

JD: Eating dinner with Yoshiko.

KGS: Can you talk about your wife, Yoshiko. How long have you been married?

JD: I have been married thirty years.

KGS: Where did you two meet?

JD: Tokyo

KGS: Yoshiko - Please feel free to respond to any or all of the above. You are always in the background, and I, along with many others, would appreciate knowing you a little better.

Yoshiko Dart: Karen, Thank you for your great advocacy. We need tens of thousands more leaders like yourself in our movement. We are counting on you.

So there you have it: a bit of insight into one of America's disability community's current icon. The more you learn about Justin, the more you discover his humaness. And because of that, he is so lovable.