In Memory of Marca Bristo

In the disability rights community, Chicago and DC, when you spoke the name Marca, everyone knew you meant Marca Bristo. She was a great trailblazer who contributed so much to our civil rights movement in the world of disability. Marca was paralyzed in 1997, at the age of 23, from the waist down, after a diving accident where she broke her neck but chose to fight the fight for all of us.

Marca helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act and was co-founder of the National Council on Independent Living. She was the first person with a disability to Chair the National Council on Disability and that is when I first heard her speak in 1999. I will never forget the power of her words. She said, “Disability and Poverty go hand in hand” and I have quoted her ever since. Marca was a force for change in the disability rights community.

Years later, I had such excitement when I visited her at Access Living in Chicago, the building incorporated ideas of universal design that should be a model for every architect and engineer. Marca was so proud of that building. Paula, Mary and I rode with her in her van to the Chicago Disability Pride Parade and marched with her and Tony Coelho. What a great memory.

I still remember Marca calling me in 2004 to ask me to spread the word that the Clint Eastwood film, “Million Dollar Baby,” was extremely hurtful to the disability community and encourage members of the disability community to not go see it. I remember how outraged Marca was because the boxer, played by Hillary Swank, became paralyzed in the film and asked her manager, played by Clint Eastwood, to kill her, by euthanasia. He injected her with adrenaline and killed her. She said, “Joyce, I saw the movie Million Dollar Baby and it is terrible. The movie implies after an accident, like mine, life is not worth living.” The movie received an Oscar for Best Picture, and I love movies, but I never saw that one and I never will because of that call from Marca.

Marca was on my radio show Disability Matters with Joyce Bender, twice. She was on in 2004 and in 2011. Marca wasn’t one for bragging and it was hard to get her on at all; but, if you go to Spotify or Apple or, you can hear the 2011 show. I will also be replaying the show on Disability Matters in Marca’s honor later this year.

Sadly, Marca died from cancer, Sunday morning, September 8th, 2019.

Marca, every time I talk about employing people with disabilities and say, “Disability and Poverty go hand in hand,” I will always add, said the late great personal champion of mine, Marca Bristo.  You will be missed, but always remembered.

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