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William Tainter; Advocate for the Disabled

<i> From a Times Staff Writer</i>

William Tainter, director of rehabilitation for the Wilson Administration and a fierce advocate for the rights of the disabled, died Monday in a San Jose hotel room, aides to Gov. Pete Wilson said.

Tainter, 51, who had suffered from polio since childhood and, more recently, from kidney disease, was found dead in his bed at the San Jose Hilton by his brother, Owen, who was traveling with him, said Rich Bayquen, assistant director of the Department of Rehabilitation.

Bayquen said the cause of Tainter’s death was not known Monday afternoon.

Tainter was in San Jose for a speech on embracing diversity in the delivery of rehabilitation services. He was to speak at a conference sponsored by his department and Howard University of Washington, D.C.

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Tainter began his activism for the disabled as a student at San Jose State University. He focused his efforts on the concept of “independent living,” the idea that people with disabilities must be free to live as others do.

He co-founded the Community Service Center for the Disabled in San Diego in 1976, where he met Wilson, then the city’s mayor. Wilson appointed him director of the state Department of Rehabilitation in 1991.

Late that year, Tainter filed suit in federal court against United Airlines for keeping him off a flight because he was using a portable respirator. Bayquen said the lawsuit was settled out of court.

Wilson, in a statement issued by his office, described Tainter’s passing as a “tremendous personal and professional blow.” He said Tainter was a relentless advocate and a “solution-oriented problem solver.”

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