If the name DR. Sylvia Walker does not sound familiar to you, you are not alone. I was not familiar with Dr. Walker myself when I received this blog assignment. I knew the names of many disability advocates such as Judith Heumann and Justin Whitlock Dart Jr., and their role in paving the way for the equal rights and accessible world I now live in. Thanks to some research, Dr. Sylvia Walker will be another name I always remember and affiliate with greater accessibility for all.
Dr. Sylvia Walker was born in New York City, New York on July 18, 1937. She was blind, and few had expectations for her beyond the typical jobs such as clerical work. Dr. Walker was determined to gain an education and advocate for minorities such as herself; Sylvia was blind and African American. After more than 10 years and four degrees, Dr. Walker became an assistant professor in the School of Education at Howard University, located in Washington, D.C. It didn’t take Dr. Walker long to become a full-time professor, and she immediately began researching the lack of accessibility for all people living with disabilities, especially minority people. She founded the Center for the Study of Handicapped Children and Youth at Howard University in 1975; this has been renamed to the Howard University Center for Disability and Socioeconomic Policy Studies.
Dr. Walker served as director for her entire life, and played an integral role in identifying the need for Rehabilitation services for minority persons with disabilities. She did not focus her advocacy on one minority, however; she ensured that all ethnic and racial groups such as Hispanics, American Indians, and Asians had equal access to the services they deserved. Dr. Walker penned many articles about the daily struggles minorities and persons with disabilities faced at that time, as well as the necessity of a quality education for these populations. Such contributions helped to spawn the legislation which lead to the ADA, and other laws.
In 1994, President Clinton appointed Dr. Walker as the vice chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (PCEPD). In 1995, Dr. Walker founded the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) with fellow activists I. King Jordan, Paul Hearne, John D. Kemp, and Justin Whitlock Dart Jr. The AAPD works to expand the overall economic and political power of individuals living with disabilities. Dr. Walker’s extensive work on behalf of minorities living with disabilities was acknowledged by the NAACP’s “Keeper of the Flame” award in 2000.
Dr. Sylvia Walker died on February 6, 2004, but her legacy lives on through the countless lives she enhanced, the services she augmented, the legislation passed, the articles she wrote, and the groups she founded. She was an advocate and a champion for those of us living with disabilities, and we should strive to continue the path she took on a national and international level.
Read more about Dr. Sylvia Walker and her work as an advocate for people with disabilities.
Read more about people with disabilities in WeCo’s IT Accessibility Information Blog.