Mary Lou Breslin Selected to Receive Prestigious Award

For Immediate Release — January 28, 2002

Contact: Susan Henderson (510) 644-2555

Berkeley, California — Mary Lou Breslin, a co-founder of the Berkeley’s Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and a highly passionate, respected and effective advocate on behalf of people with disabilities in the U.S. and around the world for more than 25 years, has been selected by a national jury to receive the prestigious Henry B. Betts Award. The presentation of a $50,000 cash award will be made to Ms. Breslin at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) Leadership Gala on February 27, 2002 in Washington, DC.

Ms. Breslin’s pioneering efforts to promote disability civil rights began in the 1970’s when she organized and trained thousands of people with disabilities about the new federal disability rights law, Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. With the clear purpose of improving the quality of life for people with disabilities through civil rights law and policy reform, in 1979 she co-founded DREDF, the nation’s first cross-disability civil rights law and policy center, sustaining it to the present time. Her blend of experience in the disability movement is also reflected in cutting edge scholarship, primarily at the University of California at Berkeley. She inspired the acquisition of original historical materials about the disability movement, and scores of oral histories, by the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office. Ms. Breslin has gone on to develop and teach new courses using this groundbreaking research collection.

Much of her success on behalf of DREDF as well as the entire disability rights movement, according to her colleagues, has to do with her ability to rally, organize and inspire other advocates; not just those in the disability community, but also the broader civil rights community. “She has all the qualities of the general and all the qualities of the soldier; she blazes the trail and maintains it; and she can persuade through forceful advocacy or quiet diplomacy,” explains Arlene B. Mayerson, Directing Attorney for DREDF.

The Prince Charitable Trusts and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago established the Henry B. Betts Award in 1989, to annually honor, acknowledge, and support the work of one individual who has, during the course of his/her career, made extraordinary contributions to the quality of life of people with disabilities. The award is named in honor of Henry B. Betts, M.D., a pioneering leader in the field of rehabilitation medicine who started his career with the Institute in 1964.

Breslin’s accomplishments have inspired advocacy and coalition building that have had a dramatic, positive impact on the disability community in the United States and internationally. It was because of her leadership and advocacy that DREDF, for over a decade, was able to lay the groundwork for the 1990 passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Act prohibits disability-based discrimination in employment, education, public accommodations, state and local governments and transportation, and has served as a model for similar legislation in over 40 countries.

AAPD is honored to collaborate with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago on the presentation of this highly distinguished award to recognize a pioneer who has helped to redefine the disability experience in America, says Andrew J. Imparato, President and CEO of AAPD.
Explains Susan O’Hara, Senior Policy Advisory in the Regional Oral History Office of The Bancroft Library, the University of California, Berkeley, ?At the heart of Mary Lou Breslin’s accomplishments is her tenacious belief that change in law and policy will enhance opportunities for people with disabilities. She brings to her work a ferocious will to make things happen, a mighty ability to bring people together, inspire them, and enable them to believe in their own power to effect change.

Breslin exemplifies the leadership qualities and vision of Dr. Betts and of previous recipients of the Henry B. Betts Award. Previous recipients include luminaries like Judith E. Heumann, who went on to be the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U. S. Department of Education; Lex Frieden, who President Bush has nominated to chair the National Council on Disability (NCD); and Marca Bristo, appointed by President Clinton to chair NCD.