Serving People with Disabilities in Northern California
Pat Wright’s leadership during the ADA’s passage eventually earned her the nickname, “The General.” She was one of a handful of leading strategizers based in Washington, DC, and worked especially closely with Ralph Neas, Executive Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Wright and Neas collaborated with a number of other leaders who focused on different objectives for passing the ADA: Washington lobbyists Liz Savage and Paul Marchand; Grassroots organizers Justin Dart and Marilyn Golden; and attorneys Arlene Mayerson, Chai Feldblum, and Robert Burgdorf.
Pat Wright (right) with Mary Lou Breslin
Wright originally planned to be a medical doctor. During medical school in the 1960s, however, she developed a progressive eye disease that eventually left her legally blind. Being prevented from realizing her aspirations was devastating, and Wright was temporary aimless. But she found a new interest in assisting persons with disabilities move from institutions to community-based living. This also gave her an intimate knowledge of how legal technicalities affected the lives of persons with disabilities. Wright made her first major inroads to the disability rights movement at the Section 504 sit-in in San Francisco in April, 1977. Although she was there largely to serve as a personal assistant to Judy Heumann, Wright began to reveal and develop her negotiation skills in dealing with authorities. This experience led her to become more involved with advocacy. In the late 1970s she joined DREDF, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, where she worked with Robert Funk, Mary Lou Breslin, and Arlene Mayerson to advocate for disability rights on a national level.
Pat honored at DREDF
In addition to sponsoring training sessions in disability rights, Wright and DREDF formed a crucial working relationship with Ralph Neas and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights by collaborating on such legislative initiatives as the Civil Rights Restoration Act. Such efforts earned Wright a place on LCCR’s Executive Council. Wright was so widely respected in Congress and the White House that her highly individual apparel and colorful vocabulary were safe from reproach. The ADA’s success was due in no small part to Wright’s strategic leadership.