Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Lucile Withington

Audio transcript: On difficulties with the students in the Cowell Hospital Residence Program and leaving position as counselor
Date: March 23, 1998
Interviewer: Sharon Bonney

Note: Transcripts have been lightly edited; therefore there may be slight discrepancies with audio clips.

Lucile, let's go back to the incident, you have alluded to it a couple of times where ultimately you ended up leaving as the counselor to the residence program. What specifically were the issues with the students in the program? Let's take, say, was there an issue with John Hessler in that program at the time?

Trying to remember, I think John was backing me. You're getting into another file that I don't have with me, because this was quite an experience. The incident that came up gave cause for the Rolling Quads to evolve, which was like the sign on my bookcase has always said, "Are you sure you can't do it yourself?" in terms of independence.

The students from the floor of the hospital got together and formed the group after the May uprising in People's Park. In a way it was almost negative psychology, because it brought them closer together, it gave them some strength, and it was essentially the start of the independent living centers that have occurred in almost every town. Marin County, I am still a member of, in San Rafael. I get their brochures, even though I've been here for five years. And Al Fabyancic was with it in San Francisco.

But, the issue that I was dealing with, with Don Lorence and Larry Biscamp, about "move over," was the fact they had not gone to classes for the previous quarter. Larry, in fact, as I mentioned earlier, hadn't gone, I think, earlier than that. And though living in a college campus is very much a part of growing up, it didn't fit the hierarchy of the Department of Rehabilitation, basically—how much room are you given to just use the funds and not perform towards your vocational goal?

And so I became the scapegoat, and actually was out of the country, when this wonderful newspaper article hit the stands about the fact that I was very upset that they were letting their hair grow and not using underarm deodorant. I didn't know anything about this until I got back to the States a month later.

All I had said was, "Look, I have asked you fellas to go to class, over and over again. It's part of the requirements of the program." They hadn't gone to class; they either had "Incompletes," or they were just horsing around. And there were other clients out there that deserved an opportunity, and we couldn't build a bigger wing on the hospital. So the people who were in the hospital, there was a division among them as to whether I was being rational or not. There were other quadriplegics who were very respecting of my decision and who wrote letters to the director, and all sort of things.

But at any rate, I had become kind of a hot potato. So that's why Gerry Belchick, who, to this day, is, or maybe two months ago, has been working as a special examiner for the Social Security Department Disability Division to determine whether or not somebody should be granted Social Security Disability benefits. And Gerry and I have been friends over the years. I know that he's over in New Mexico at this time, just having had a very cold, snowy winter. But Gerry came in at that point, and I went back to a regular caseload.

End of transcript

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