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Bill Roth '64 honored on the Senate floor

As reported in the Congressional Record, Bill Roth '64 was honored on the Senate floor by Senator Bernard "Bernie" Sanders (I-VT).

Remembering William David Roth

March 19, 2015

Mr. SANDERS: Mr. President, I wish to speak today in remembrance of William David Roth, who passed away on March 17, 2015.

William "Bill'' David Roth, 71, of Albany, NY, lived an extraordinary life and made major contributions to U.S. public policy. He was the son of Dr. Oscar Roth and Dr. Stefanie Zeimer Roth, refugees from Vienna who arrived in the United States just prior to the onset of World War II. Bill graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in 1964 after majoring in mathematics, economics, and politics. This is all the more remarkable given the fact that a neuromuscular disorder from the age of 8 left him unable to write. He performed complex mathematical equations and logical formulae in his head. He was also a formidable presence at Yale and later at the University of California, Berkley, where he received his Ph.D. in 1970. He was that rare person who was both a man of thought and action and who inspired others by overcoming great odds and obstacles. From 1971 to 1972 he taught political science at the University of Vermont. He very well may have averted a Kent State tragedy in 1972 by permitting himself to be arrested at the Federal building in downtown Burlington during a nonviolent student protest against the Vietnam war. While Roth was offered immediate release because of his disability, he chose instead to remain until all the students had been released from the Burlington city jail. In this way he showed one of the virtues of civil disobedience, conducted with dignity and without violence, thus serving as an example and inspiration to others.

Subsequently, he went to work on the Carnegie Council on Children in Connecticut. He coauthored a landmark book that dealt searchingly with children with disabilities. His first major work was called The Unexpected Minority: Handicapped Children in America. He also coauthored The Grand Illusion: Stigma, Role-expectations, and Communication. These are widely acknowledged as providing the analytical basis for the disability-rights movement as well as fostering a new academic discipline, disability studies.

Bill's work emphasized the disability movement's core vision: the most socially incapacitating aspects of disability are not the inescapable consequence of biology but the result of countless social decisions that do not acknowledge the needs of people with different bodies and, indeed, discriminate against people whose bodies are different. Bill went on to pioneer the use of computer technology for people with disabilities and in 1984 founded the Center for Computing and Disability at SUNY, Albany, one of the first such centers in the Nation. Bill was widely acknowledged through his scholarly research, technological imagination, and progressive politics, as one of the founders of America's disability-rights movement. He helped establish the framework for the Federal Disabilities Act and his work over the years addressed the architectural, transportation, and technological barriers to living with a disability in the United States.

As a longtime professor at the University at SUNY School of Social Welfare he taught courses in social policy and disability studies. In recent years, Bill's research and writing focused on illuminating the damage done in the aggressive pursuit of dismantling of the U.S. welfare state. His book, The Assault on Social Policy, Columbia UP, is now in its second edition. It is recommended reading for all of my colleagues. Bill Roth fought not only with issues in disability but with his own neuromuscular disorder. He was a little like the phoenix — the bird that kept coming back. He was one of the most courageous people I have ever known. He was brilliant, imaginative, inventive, and utterly fearless. Bill inspired those of us who had the good fortune to know him. As Senator Joe Lieberman noted upon hearing of Bill Roth's death:

"Bill was an extraordinary person — gifted, strong, funny, inspiring. We were blessed to know him."

As lawmakers, we have benefited from his many contributions to public policy and discourse. We remember and honor him for these accomplishments. Bill Roth overcame serious illnesses as well as disabilities. He served as a courageous example to his family, friends, colleagues, and students.