Bancroft Library acquires documents from local disability rights advocate

Jamin Kim-Sanders/Staff

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UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library recently acquired a collection of personal papers, articles and photographs from local disability rights advocate Anthony Tusler, offering students a look into four decades of the disability rights movement.

According to Peter Hanff, deputy director of the Bancroft Library, this collection will be added to the library’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement archive, an archive that the library has been adding to for “at least 25 years.” The archive began through a sequence of gifts, but has since grown to include the library’s own additions in a compilation of oral histories from disability rights activists.

“I think it’s just wonderful that Tusler reached out to us,” Hanff said. “The fact that people are willing to share their successes with us is wonderful. The fact that people who are studying all aspects of the disability rights movement can access these primary sources is extremely helpful.”

The collection features several notable photographs from the mid-1970s, including several action shots by Tusler from the 26-day sit-in at the U.S. Federal Building in San Francisco in 1977.

Protesters that day demanded the enforcement of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which mandated that any federally funded facility would be made accessible to people with disabilities. After nearly a month, the demonstration was successful: Stronger regulations were signed into law.

“For some reason, and I’m still not sure why, I took my camera to the Section 504 demonstration in 1977,” Tusler said. “Someone had to have those photographs because they are historically significant.”

Some of the items that David de Lorenzo, associate director and head of technical services at Bancroft Library, requested from Tusler after their first contact took him by surprise. Among those items was Tusler’s collection of “beggar cards,” 25-cent poetry cards often sold by people impoverished and with disabilities in the early 1900s in order to survive. The library was also interested in his collection of paintings from Mexico that highlighted people with disabilities.

“(De Lorenzo) said, ‘If you collected it, then it’s important,’ ” Tusler said. “In his mind, if I had thought it was something worth keeping, then it was. I was the organizing principle.”

Tusler said that donating his belongings to the Bancroft Library was “a great relief” and that both he and his wife were happy to see de Lorenzo leave their house with two full boxes of papers.

“It’s been something of a surreal experience,” Tusler said. “I live my life, I do the things that I do, and I’m passionate about disability rights. They’re important to me. But I never know what an influence I have, often until years later. … It’s really humbling and strange. I’m very grateful.”

Contact Harini Shyamsundar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hshyamsundar.