Lindenauer Lecture 2020

Cerebral Palsy and the Disability Rights Movement: Where We've Been and Where We're Going 

disability rights advocate in wheelchairs in Washington DC

Photographer: Bettmann/Bettmann

Speakers: Cara Liebowitz and Denise Sherer Jacobson, MA


On November 18, the 2020 Marilyn R. Lindenauer Distinguished Speaker Series hosted disability activitists Cara Liebowitz and Denise Sherer Jacobson, MA, who discussed “Cerebral Palsy and the Disability Rights Movement: Where We've Been and Where We're Going." Moderated by Dr. Jason Carmel, Executive Director, the interactive program featured personal experiences as Denise was born pre ADA and seen in the acclaimed Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and Cara was born post ADA, and currently lives in Washington DC actively advocating.


Watch 2020 Lecture Video

Extra Q and A with Denise After the Lecture

  • Has it been difficult for someone having CP with a speech disability to become leaders in the Disability Rights Movement? In some ways. I found that good leaders are always ready to be inclusive and make room for everyone. But it does take an enormous amount of energy and stamina to persist. For me, writing became a good way to channel my activism and balance it with my personal life.
  • What can be done about discrimination towards people with CP accents in the disability community? First, it's not just our “accents” that put people off. It's also our movements, the way we appear, etc. But it's not so much a question of what can be done. It's a matter of what we do to be heard-- talking for ourselves, reminding people we can talk for ourselves, insisting on it. Also finding the best ways we're comfortable in communicating. What may work for me, might not work for someone else.
  • Is there any employment opportunities through Disability Rights Movement?  I was born with CP and have a Master Degree in Ed.? There are many disability-related organizations to check out on-line. They'll usually post job openings. If you meet the qualifications and you're interested, you can apply. I've often found it helpful to begin by volunteering for an organization  I'm interested in so they get to know my skills and would likely hire me if there's a job opening.
  • What is the most exciting change you’ve seen since the passage of the ADA? Now when I go out with friends, I don't have to worry so much if there will be an accessible bathroom nearby.
  •  How can the disabled community and allies have a greater impact on the policies of the Biden administration? Check out the Disability Council within the DNC. Also, President-elect Biden's platform includes addressing disability issues.
  • What's the biggest obstacle you face living with a disability? Other people's assumptions that I don't have a life or that my life is tragic!
  • How should the USA experience inform efforts at global (Chinese) disability rights? In 2006, the UN hosted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, during which a resolution was drafted modeled after the ADA. 94 countries have ratified it. For more info.
  • You mentioned a hierarchy of crips with polio’s at the top. Will you say more Denise? I've written about it. When I was growing up, basically, a feeling from professionals that there were lower expectations for those of us with CP because we weren't as acceptable-looking as someone who might have polio, or spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy. The behavior and treatment by professionals in medical, educational, and recreational settings, unfortunately, served as role models for society and our peers. The first place where I didn't experience that stigma was at Camp Jened. When I interviewed Larry Allison, the director, decades later, for the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement project, he spoke about addressing that issue at camp.
  • When and where did you first experience a sense of inclusion as a person with a disability and not a disabled person – your first sense of belonging. I'm comfortable identifying as a disabled woman. My disability is part of who I am. As for a sense of inclusion, I believe the first time I felt it with my nondisabled peers was in high school. With my disabled peers, at Camp Jened—my first boyfriend had polio!
  • Can you speak to the need for the medical community to support the idea that health care for all includes long term community based support services for all – regardless of income? I don't think the medical community in general understands the issues of having a disability. The key to resolving this basic dilemma is, perhaps to create a think tank of stakeholders from the disability community and the medical community.
  • Where did you go to high school and where can I get your books? I went to Theodore Roosevelt has in The Bronx. My book THE QUESTION OF DAVID: A  Disabled Mother's Journey Through Adoption, Family, and Life is available on or Ebay. You can probably google my name for a list of my other work. My 2ndbook is still in progress.


  • Cara Liebowitz

    • Disabled Activist and Writer

    Cara Liebowitz is a disabled activist and writer.  Originally from Long Island and now living in the Washington, DC area, Cara is the Development Coordinator for the National Council on Independent Living, handling the organization's fundraising, grant writing, and organizational partnerships.  Cara also works as a freelance sensitivity reader, providing feedback on disability representation in manuscripts at all stages of pre-publication.  Cara's work has been published in a wide array of online and in person outlets, including the Washington Post, Uncanny Magazine, Everyday Feminism, and more.  She is active in the DC Metro chapter of ADAPT as well as other organizations and has been arrested twice for civil disobedience.  In her (increasingly limited) spare time, Cara likes to read, watch Star Trek, and spend time with her cat.  You can find out more at

    Cara sits outside wearing a purple hoodie with a 3E Love wheelchair heart symbol on it.
  • Denise Sherer Jacobson, M.A.

    • Activist, Educator, Counselor, Administrator, and Oral Historian

    Denise Sherer Jacobson, M.A., has worked as an activist, educator, counselor, administrator,and oral historian (at UC Berkeley) in the Independent Living Movement for over 40 years. She is the author of a multi-layered memoir, The Question of David: A Disabled Mother's Journey Through Adoption, Family, and Life. Sherer Jacobson's blogs, articles, stories, and poetry have been published on websites in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. In 2015, she was the subject of a New York Times online photo essay. She is the story consultant for the acclaimed Netflix documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, as well as a featured personality in the film. Sherer Jacobson has given presentations on disability-related issues both nationally and worldwide. Her goal as a writer/educator is “Weaving the Disability Experience into the Tapestry of Living.”

    Denise sits inside wearing a checkered jacket
  • Jason Carmel, MD, PhD (Moderator)

    • Executive Director of WFCPC
    Headshot of Jason Carmel, MD, PhD