Getting to Know You
1. Your name: Ken Stein
2. What’s your connection with disability?
Resume-Sounding, nonetheless …
(I do advise giving it a 6 second scan)
For the past 45 years, I have worked to further the cause of independent
living, disability access, and disability rights. An early staff member of
Bonita House (Berkeley’s first Halfway House for people with psychiatric
disabilities), and the Berkeley Center for Independent Living (beginning
in 1974), I was the Program Administrator of the City of S.F. Mayor’s
Office on Disability from 2002-2013. For the ten years prior, I worked at
the Disability Rights Education and Defense Find (DREDF), as Manager of
the national U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Hotline.
For the first 12 years of the ADA (at the Pacific DBTAC and DREDF) I
provided ADA telephone tech support to almost 70,000 members of the
public, as well as the public and private sectors. We had to log all of
In the sixteen years prior to the passage of the ADA, I had done a lot of
research, writing & editing of reports, articles and newsletters; provided
disability-related I&R (information and referral) to the public; at CIL,
CIL’s Disability Law Resource Center / DREDF, the City of Oakland’s Access
California Project, etc.
I am proud of the things I have done, and consider it a blessing that I
have been able to be a part of, and witness to, the development and growth
of a movement that has literally changed millions of people’s lives for
the better, all around the world. That’s not to say the job is done. By
3. Star Trek or Star Wars?
4. If you could live in any other country for 2 years, where would you go?
The United States, Berkeley, in 1890 and 1891.
5. What dish would your bring to our community picnic potluck?
My mothers brisket.
Now That We’ve Been Introduced…
1. What do you do:
I am retired. Am the husband to my wife Ingrid Tischer, who is the
Development Director of DREDF and a writer extraordinaire.
As for what I am doing *right now*, this past Saturday I began organizing
a local demonstration against the film ‘Me Before You’ that opens Thursday
at the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley. And this week, I am working at CIL
helping to I.D. old photos in their collection, before they go off to the
2. How did you come to doing what you did?
It’s a long story. Basically, when I was 24, I was looking for a job that
would let me sleep till noon. One thing led to another.
For additional information, ref:
How has your career trajectory flowed?
Not exactly flowing, but all this stuff as well, speaking well of myself
in the third person. (Again, I advise a 6 second scan).
A noted photographer, Ken’s photos were the centerpiece of a six month
long 2007 multi-media / photo exhibit: “Berkeley’s ‘Other’ Revolution:
Celebrating 35 Years of Independent Living, Disability Access, and
Disability Rights.,” in the windows of Rasputin Music on Telegraph Avenue,
which commemorated CIL’s 35th Anniversary, the 30th Anniversary of the 504
Demonstration, and honored Berkeley’s role in the birth and development of
the independent living movement.
In June 2008, I was the featured photographer and keynote speaker at
“History, Progress, Transformation: Vision of the Future,” a disability
rights history photo exhibit at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
in Washington D.C., held in conjunction with the U.S. Department of
Labor’s national disability employment summit, “Transforming the American
Workplace: A 21st Century Vision.” Over the years, my photos have
appeared in a wide variety of publications and helped to give a visual
voice the burgeoning disability rights movement.
I am very proud of the fact that one of my photos (at their request) has
been included in the library collection of the National Civil Rights
Museum, former site of the Loraine Motel, in Memphis.
I was a Co-Founder and Past President of the Berkeley Historical Society.
In 2000-2001 while at DREDF, I developed and was Project Director of the
Disability Civil Rights History Project, a landmark model project that
taught disability rights history to primary and middle school students in
the Berkeley public schools.
In 1996-97, I organized and was the Steering Committee Chair of The 504
Sit-In 20th Anniversary Celebration and Commemoration. In conjunction with
the Anniversary event held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in June
1997, the Committee (which served a free dinner to over 650 people!)
produced a commemorative book, an 18 minute Video documentary, “The Power
of 504”, and the 58 minute radio documentary, “We Shall Not Be Moved”. In
more recent years, I have served as a guest panelist and consultant on a
number of disability rights history and disability awareness panels. My
‘504’ picket sign has been on display in the Smithsonian Institution’s
National Museum of American History Exhibit ‘The Disability Rights
Movement,’ adjacent to the Greensboro Mississippi Lunch Counter.
3. Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
4. Not to be morbid, but what do you want people to remember about you
when you’ve gone?
I’m with my dear old friend Allen Lee Brite (1943-1972), well-versed in
Eastern philosophy, he once mentioned to me that there, as well as in all
other religions, a common theme is that the past is fertilizer for what
follows. I believe that to be true.
Be that as it may, going to be 69 later this year and having been retired
for three years, I think I am pretty much already done, and much of the
book of my life has already been written. So perhaps not inappropriate to
provide some nice dust jacket blurbs.
The three nicest things that other people have ever said about me:
One time about 20 years ago at a conference of some sort, Judy Heumann
introduced me to someone by saying: “Oh, do you know Ken Stein? He knows
where all the bones are buried.”
The second was an email that Corbett O’Toole sent to me out of the blue in
“It was great to see you. I don’t know if you feel it, but you are a
critical part of the movement. Your contributions have kept us alive (even
as many of us were dying). You held onto our history, when we didn’t know
we had one. Kept a deep understanding of our place in making history, when
we were too stoned to notice. And are available every time someone finally
realizes that we need to know who we are and where we came from.
You are the reason that I have finally turned to documenting the disabled
women’s community. Your unwavering dedication is inspiring and profound.
The third was at a City of SF Mayor’s Disability Council Meeting some
years ago. I had complemented someone who was involved in a peer mentoring
program to get people out of Laguna Honda Hospital, saying that the design
of their program was much like the original foundational concepts of CIL
and the independent living movement.
He said at the microphone that my compliment meant a lot to him because
he said, “we all know that you were one of the pioneers of the Independent
At first I was very much taken aback by that. Because prior to that, I had
never thought of myself in that way. Whenever I gave talks about the
history of the bay area independent living movement, I would always begin
by saying that “I was never one of the leaders of the movement but I was
there at the time.” Indeed for a long time I thought of myself as the
Forrest Gump of the Independent Living Movement.
But his saying that really made me realize that I and all of the great
many others who worked together back then in the early days (far too many
of whom have since passed away, all but un-remembered) were indeed true
pioneers, in the best and truest sense of the word.
5. Who or what inspires you.
People who are able to follow the fire in their guts, who are able to
remain true to themselves; and who are somehow able to combine their
talents and their art and their careers. In brief, my children Emily &
Aaron; and Paul Newman.
1. If you could say something to yourself in the past – that is, the you
that was really struggling with something related to disability – what
would you say?
Hang on. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
2. What do you like about your particular disability?
Not a lot. Has cost me a great deal. For the short version of a long
Ref: SF ADMINISTRATOR FILES DISCRIMINATION CLAIM WITH CITY
3. Any one thing that you wish people would *get* about disability?
That it exists. That it is a demographic. That it is part of everyone’s
life. That it needs to be on the table for public policy planning. That
it’s impacts and significances increase exponentially across
intersectional characteristics like gender, race, sexual orientation,
class etc, and none of these groups get that.
That sounds like six things, but it is one thing.
4. What single piece of technology makes your life easier?
My television and DVD player / old movies.
5. Where else can we find you online?
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.