Marilyn Golden was a college student on a summer backpacking trip in Switzerland when she fell from a tree after a rotting branch broke. Her back was broken. She spent two years in rehab at Houston Medical Center and had used a wheelchair ever since.
“I have been radicalized in a general sense after I was injured,” she said.
Ms. Golden would spend the rest of her life championing civil rights for people with disabilities, while dismissing as “ridiculous” the idea that people like her with disabilities wanted or deserved compassion.
As a policy analyst for the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, a leading national organization in the field, Ms. Golden was instrumental in the drafting, passing, and implementation of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
“She was a pivot, an absolutely essential person in the passing of the law,” said Chai Feldblum, who helped draft the ADA while with the American Civil Liberties Union and who later served on the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. .
“Marilyn was the linchpin of community organizing and the number 1 person using her organization to get the rules implemented,” Ms Feldblum said on the phone.
Mrs. Golden died on September 21 at her home in Berkeley, California, at the age of 67. The cause was melanoma, said her companion, Rabbi David J. Cooper.
Ms. Golden campaigned for people with disabilities on a number of fronts. She advocated better access to public transport, especially buses and trains; adapting building codes for new construction and renovations to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility aids; encourage independent living as a substitute for long-term care in institutions; expanding financial aid and other benefits; and demanding and urging public and private entities to expand access to communications and information technology.
Those improvements would manifest themselves in everything from lowering the height of ATMs that can talk to customers, to mandating sign language interpreters for the deaf serving on juries.
“We need to convince business-friendly lawmakers that the civil rights of people who are often separated and excluded from society are important enough to make them a requirement,” Ms Golden said on the defense fund’s website.
She also actively opposed attempts in several states to legalize assisted suicide. She argued that such practices were fueled by fears of disability — “the public image of disability is like a fate worse than death,” she said — and prejudice against it, citing “economic pressure from the health care system to self-serve.” freeing his most expensive patients.”
“We are not against aggressive palliative care – that is pain and comfort care – nor the right to refuse or withdraw medical treatment,” she added. “We are also not against the proper, scary application of a treatment called palliative sedation, when death is really imminent. We are just opposing more aggressive ways of hastening death,” such as legalizing lethal injections or prescribing barbiturates.
Ms. Golden was a member of the federal Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board from 1996 to 2005. She was coordinator of the Disabled International Support Effort, a non-profit organization that focuses on developing countries. In 2015, she was honored by the Obama White House as a “Champion of Change” for transportation.
Marilyn Golden was born on March 22, 1954 in San Antonio, Texas, to Aaron and Clarice (Lerner) Golden. Her father was a restaurateur and owner of a currency exchange office; her mother was a housewife.
Ms. Golden spent her freshman year of college in Israel and planned to return there after graduating from Brandeis University in 1977 with a degree in social welfare. Then she had her accident.
For eight years, she was the director of Access California, a city-sponsored advocacy group for the disabled in Oakland. She joined the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in 1988 and became a senior policy analyst.
“I realized this was a place where I could play a part,” she said.
Ms. Golden led the fund’s ADA training program from 1992 to 1994 and was the principal author of the group’s guide to implementing the law.
One of the movement’s victories was Greyhound Lines’ decision in 1998 to make all 4,000 stops of the nation’s bus system accessible to wheelchair users.
“Bus travel is the only travel available to poor Americans,” Ms. Golden testified in Congress before the ADA passed, “and disabled Americans are three times more likely to fall below the federal poverty line than non-disabled Americans.”
In addition to Rabbi Cooper, she leaves behind two stepchildren, Talia Cooper and Lev Hirschhorn.
“People are constantly surprised when people with disabilities do anything from opening a door to white-water rafting,” Ms. Golden told The Oakland Tribune in 1981. “These lowered expectations are so humiliating. For me it’s normal, not great. My life is similar in scope to theirs.
“What reduces the scope of our lives is the social constraints, other people’s attitudes,” she added. “These problems lie in society. If you can’t walk, you can’t walk. But you can do a lot.”