I have known Marca Bristo for a long time, perhaps since 1981. She’s the kind of person you feel like you have known forever. We were professional colleagues invested in inclusive communities, promoters of disability rights. She died this morning. Her passing is a substantial loss for many people in many places who she has touched with her wisdom, kindness and powerful sense of what is right.
Marca was a study in contrasts. She was compassionate and tough, a visionary yet practical, open yet demanding, a consensus builder but a fierce opponent. She knew how to organize. She knew a good message when she saw it. She knew how to call a bluff and she knew how to regroup after a setback. She built things. She took risks. She inspired others.
This year she bought a group of us together to write a proposal to the MacArthur Foundation through its 100 and change initiative. The winner of this competition will receive $100 million to implement its big idea. She did this while dealing with a diagnosis of cancer.
She was the long time president of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. She was the founder and until last month the CEO of Access Living in Chicago, a highly successful independent living center. She influenced and helped draft the Americans with Disabilities Act. She bought accessible transportation to Chicago. She advised others around the world on disability rights and how to create centers for independent living.
If I were to guess what Marca would say to us now from her accessible perch in heaven, it would be this.
It’s OK to make small steps in the right direction as long as you keep your eye on the prize.
Building coalitions and creating powerful voices are necessary steps if we want sustainable change in the area of disability rights.
We have an obligation to learn from and share with others, what works, if we are serious about building inclusive communities.
Look for connections between things and treasure relationships you build, they will help you get to where you want to go more quickly.
Most of my communications with Marca over the last year have been by email. I wish I had talked to her more about her family, being a grandmother, and how she was feeling. However, we recognized her time was short, so we both focused on what needed to be done. I want a “do over” so much!
I’ll miss you, Marca.