Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sybil Feldman 1940-2012

Sybil and her PCA at the Adaptive Recreation Fair in
Boston in June 2011.
I was saddened to find out in the past week of Sybil Feldman's death last November. I knew her as someone who loved outdoor recreation and saw her regularly through the years at adaptive recreation programs and events. In her obituary and other public announcements, she is heralded as a disability activist with the nickname "Sybil Disobedience". Sybil was seventy-two years old when she died of pneumonia.

Sybil had cerebral palsy and spent over twenty years living at the Fernald School, an institution for people with disabilities that was unfortunately known for human rights abuses and poor quality of education. She fought her way out and came to live in her own apartment with the support of personal care attendants.

Sybil at far left in her wheelchair, with BCIL members.

Sybil was a steady presence at disability events in Boston for decades and also traveled to places as far away as Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Orlando to support the rights of people with disabilities. She was arrested six times in political actions that helped lay the foundation for national change and better programs and services. She also promoted disability rights to the Massachusetts state legislature, governor, attorney general and U.S. Congress by testifying in hearings and telling her story at public meetings.

As Bill Henning of the Boston Center for Independent Living said, "Her life after Fernald was a dramatic shout in the face of those who would isolate, demean, and deny people with disabilities."

And I say, thank you Sybil for your indomitable spirit, for your lifelong fight to improve the lives of people with disabilities and for taking the time to get out and play!

Thanks to Bill Henning, the Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL) for permission to share the information in his article "Passing of a Disability Rights Champion" in the Winter 2013 issue of Disability Issues, a publication of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

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