Campus alumnus, disability rights activist Michael Fuss dies at 72

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Rina Breakstone/Courtesy

Michael Fuss, a campus alumnus and activist, died July 10 from cancer. Fuss was 72.

Throughout his life, Fuss was an activist for various issues. Disability rights and civil rights were two primary causes he was particularly dedicated to, according to his daughter Rina Breakstone. Fuss was also the former assistant director of the campus’s Physically Disabled Students’ Program, or PSDP — today known as the Disabled Students’ Program.

As a campus student, Fuss first became involved in PDSP as a personal aide for a wheelchair user. From then, his inspiration to help the disabled community grew, according to his son Ari Breakstone. Fuss was eventually promoted to assistant director of PDSP.

Fuss also worked with the Center for Independent Living, an organization which advocates for and provides services to disabled community members.

“(He) helped disabled folks with (gaining) more autonomy … to have (more) freedom and exercise their civil rights,” Ari Breakstone said. “(At the time), the disabled students were kept in confines, (and) a lot of UC Berkeley was not accessible to them.”

As an activist, Fuss helped convince Berkeley to become one of the first cities in the United States to install curb cuts, which help wheelchair users up onto sidewalks, according to Ari Breakstone.

After leaving PDSP, Fuss worked at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, helping to train medical staff, nurses and social workers in identifying signs of child abuse.

“He was incredibly passionate about … trying to improve family dynamics so families could stay together in a way (that) the children were safe,” Rina Breakstone said. “The program he created (had) a lot of intervention and training with parents to address abusive and inappropriate behaviors.”

Fuss’ participation and involvement in these various groups became more limited after he was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s disease. Fuss underwent many surgeries throughout his life as a result of his illness, according to Peter Weinstein, one of Fuss’ friends.

Later in his life, Fuss became more in touch with his spirituality, devoting more of his time to study Judaism.

Fuss was a part of the founding families that started the Congregation Netivot Shalom, a local Jewish congregation.

Fuss also helped expand a local soccer league to include a Sunday component so that kids in the community who practiced Shabbat — the Jewish day of rest — on Saturdays could still have the opportunity to play in the league.

Weinstein said Fuss was a man who was “incredibly insightful” and “charismatic in the quiet way.”

Weinstein added that he believed if Fuss not developed Crohn’s disease, he would have been well known throughout California for his work.

“(Fuss) worked really hard for people who were disabled, before he (himself became) disabled,” Weinstein said. “He had a wonderful mind … (and) he was very capable of connecting with other people.”

Contact Robin Hyun at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @robinnhyun.

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