Hale Zukas, 73, has had cerebral palsy since birth. He attended the University of California at Berkeley during the height of the Free Speech Movement. Hale is a math major, and fluent in Russian. He was one of the founding members of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, the first group of its kind in the world dedicated to advocate for the rights of disabled people. He worked with Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann for many years, and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board in Washington. Hale was instrumental in shaping the B.A.R.T Accessibility Task Force to assist San Francisco Bay Area transit riders in gaining public access to transit systems.
In 2012, a permanent plaque was placed in his honor at the Ashby rail station in Berkeley. Berkeley is the birthplace of the disability movement, and the work started by Hale and others in the 1970's forever changed how the world looks at disability. Today, he continues to advocate for disability rights worldwide. This film chronicles the current life and history of a disability rights pioneer. We also explore the 504 Demonstrations of 1977 where Hale and other disability activists occupied the San Francisco Federal Building to demand equality for disability rights.
I first met Hale Zukas one day when he came to the Journalism School to attend a film screening. He has been a Berkeley institution for decades. It’s common in the city to see him zooming through the streets, on his wheelchair, on his way to an activity or meeting. When I got to know him, I found out about his remarkable history and one day I ran across a plaque in his honor at the Ashby Rail Station in Berkeley, California. I then realized that Hale had been a crucial link in a movement, started in Berkeley in 1970’s, that is responsible for changing how the world looks at the issue of disability. Many things that we take for granted today- from curb cuts to ramps, and laws protecting disability rights all started from the early work of Hale and others here in Berkeley in the 1970’s. Further, Hale is still advocating for disability rights through policy while advising San Francisco Bay Area leaders on accessibility. He is also a living embodiment of independent living. In the film, we chronicle the range of daily activities he undergoes, from comedy shows to movies, despite tremendous challenges.In the film I speak with Zona Roberts, the 97 year-old mother of disability icon Ed Roberts and Judy Heumann, who was appointed by President Clinton and President Obama to lead disability and Special Education issues throughout the nation. In addition, I speak to two former Mayors of Berkeley about the impact Hale has had on the region, and the world.