The Inspiring Story Of A Utah Woman’s Activism For People With Disabilities
This woman made history and is Utah local, Barbara G. Toomer.
Born and raised in California, she graduated from nursing school and became a first lieutenant in the United States Army Nurse Corps. While in the Army, she married Captain Gerald Ross Toomer and they both relocated to Utah. Shortly after the birth of their first child, she contracted polio and lost the use of her legs.
Once she lost the use of her legs, she dove into disability advocacy. As part of her advocacy, she focused on independent living allowing people with disabilities to live at home rather than being institutionalized. She co-founded the Utah Independent Living Center in 1981 and also took part in organizing Advocates for Utah Handicapped. She also became involved with Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit where she organized and participated in non-violent public protests. As part of these protests, she organized "crawl-ons" to draw attention to the Utah Transit Authority having not made its buses accessible to those with disabilities.
She was jailed at least 35 times due to her activism and in 1991 she helped organize the Disabled Rights Action Committee, which continues to focus on public policy causes today. She fought the Utah Transit Authority over steep fare hikes for paratransit and also served as a plaintiff against local cab companies for not being ADA compliant. She also lobbied for Medicaid expansion.
Barbara was the only known Utahan to actively participate in the rallies and protests in Washington, D.C. that led to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and also attended the U.S. Senate Committee hearing on the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. After a lifetime of activism, she received several accolades that included the National Organization for Women's Woman of Courageous Acton Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, the Advocate of the Year Community Justice Award from the Disability Law Center, the Crossroads Urban Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 and the Rosa Parks Award from the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP in 2017 among others.
You can find out more about Barbara G. Toomer and many other Utah women who have made history at the Utah Women's History link here.