Marca Bristo helped craft the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and was chair of the National Council on Disability from 1994-2002.  As the vice president of North America for Rehabilitation International, Bristo participated in the negotiation sessions for the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN adopted in 2006.

Bristo was a founder of, and currently directs, Access Living (, the Center for Independent Living in Chicago, a position she has held since 1979.  She also serves as Vice President of North America for Rehabilitation International and as President of the United States International Council on Disabilities, through which she is leading a campaign to promote the United States ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Marca & Judy Heumann

“What greater form of discrimination than not to be included in the Civil Rights Act?” Bristo asked. “Even the people writing the Civil Rights Act discriminated against us.”  But the National Council on Disability decided the group should write its own bill, so Bristo and other activists took their stories to Washington D.C., and met with legislators who had a disability or a disabled relative. They wanted Congress to understand the issues on a personal level. The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990.

Prior to an injury caused by a diving accident in 1977, which left her paralyzed from the chest down, she worked as a registered nurse.

Passing the Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1982, Access Living and other centers for independent living formed the National Council on Independent Living to organize centers nationwide.  While advocates were discussing how to press for national change, Bristo helped to coordinate the grassroots efforts and represented NCIL in the strategy sessions in Washington.

As the CEO, Marca Bristo is featured in a 7-minute promotional video about the work of Access Living in Chicago:  “Access Living Organizational Video”