Douglas Martin, 55; Fought Prejudice Against Disabled
Douglas Martin, who was stricken with polio at age 5 and grew up to be a successful advocate for the disabled, helping pass the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1988, has died. He was 55.
Martin, who used a portable iron lung while sleeping, died Friday night in his Los Angeles home when it accidentally became detached, said his mother, Julia.
The advocate, who spent more than two years of his early childhood hospitalized in an iron lung, used a wheelchair the rest of his life. The effects of the polio included low stamina and respiratory difficulty, although he could breathe on his own while he was awake.
A native of Naper, Neb., Martin earned a major scholarship to the University of Nebraska but was turned away when officials saw his wheelchair.
“I made a vow then and there that I would pursue my education and use it to make sure this would not happen to anyone else,” Martin once told a UCLA publication.
He moved west to attend UCLA, where he found “the climate was milder, the barriers were fewer and the environment was very accommodating.”
Martin earned simultaneous bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1973 and a doctoral degree in urban affairs two years later. He became a department scholar and in 1972 was the first disabled person to be named a UCLA Chancellor’s Fellow.
Impressed with a similar operation at UC Berkeley, Martin in 1976 co-founded the Westside Center for Independent Living, an organization of disabled students providing advocacy, housing and personal attendants for the disabled.
“It was more a labor of love and a deep personal conviction for change than anything else,” he told The Times in 1990.
Martin remained in California, spending years as a lobbyist for passage of legislation to aid the disabled. In 1989, he returned to UCLA as special assistant to the chancellor in charge of compliance with those laws.
“The rejection by the University of Nebraska haunted me all my adult life,” Martin told The Times. “They saw the visible disability but could not anticipate my motivation and dedication.”
When Martin took the UCLA job to enforce what had been passed, 75% of the campus buildings were largely inaccessible to people with disabilities. He supervised the conversion of them all, including access ramps, handrails, curb ramps, special devices such as amplifiers, Braille signs, evacuation chairs, note-takers and counselors.
Under his tenure as disabled affairs compliance officer at UCLA, enrollment of students with disabilities increased markedly, from 237 when he arrived in 1989, to 1,082 by 1996.
During his years away from UCLA, Martin worked extensively in Sacramento and Washington as a lobbyist, principally with then-Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills). In addition to the state disability laws Martin helped pass, he worked with Beilenson on the Americans With Disabilities Act and to assure Medicare and other benefits for disabled people with jobs.
Martin considered his most gratifying achievement the decade-long effort that led to the signing of the Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act in 1986.
The act revised Social Security laws and Supplemental Security Income regulations to eliminate rules that halted benefits when disabled people were employed. Under revisions Martin helped achieve, the rules encouraged the disabled to seek and retain jobs.
“It was the longest sustained advocacy that I had done,” Martin said. He added that he worked on that particular issue because of his own experience after graduation from UCLA when “I could not accept employment because I could not afford to lose some of the benefits.”
In 1990, Martin was awarded the national Distinguished Service Award from former President Bush’s Committee for Employment of People With Disabilities.
He was also honored by the Los Angeles County Commission on Disabilities for his work “to enable persons who are disabled to live, work and participate fully in Los Angeles County.”
Martin is survived by his wife of eight months, Ray Lynn Martin, and his mother. His father, Arthur, died Oct. 8. The family said a dual memorial service will be planned for father and son.
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