Joyce Ardell Jackson: A fighter for disability rights

Joyce Ardell Jackson
Joyce Ardell Jackson, who died on Dec. 29. 2013.

Joyce Ardell Jackson departed this life on Sunday, December 29, 2013, in San Pedro, California, following a decades-long struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Born June 2, 1947, in Berkeley, California, Joyce was a spirited youngster, adventurous and friendly. At the age of 12, she contracted arthritis, a defining period in her life. Over the years she faced many challenges because of her condition, enduring more than 50 operations. Yet she rarely succumbed to self-pity. At one point she even called herself “The Bionic Woman,” a moniker she had borrowed from a popular 1970s TV series.

After attending public schools in Oakland and Hayward, California, Joyce attended Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, graduating in 1973. Determined to be independent, she worked for a number of firms in the Bay Area, including McDonnell Douglas, British Telecommunications, The San Jose Mercury News, and Community Resources for Independent Living.  At times, she found it necessary to juggle two part-time jobs with her full-time job.

Early in her career, soon after accepting a job with the Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Berkeley, Joyce began a second defining period in her life.

In April of 1977, she took part in a disability rights sit-in that lasted nearly a month. Led by disability rights advocate Judy Heumann, some 150 severely disabled demonstrators and their supporters occupied the San Francisco regional offices of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), demanding enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Similar demonstrations were held in several other cities across the country.

As the nationwide protests continued, Joyce was one of 20 activists sent to Washington, D.C., to meet with Carter administration officials. While in D.C., the activists convinced HEW officials to implement Section 504 – the landmark civil rights legislation prohibiting federally funded agencies, programs, and activities from discriminating against the disabled. From that point on, all agencies and programs receiving federal funds had to find ways to accommodate people with disabilities, ensuring accessibility to opportunities in education, employment, housing, and other areas.

The “504” victory brought about life-changing improvements for the disabled, including architectural accommodations ranging from handicapped-accessible restrooms to curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, and bus transit lifts.

Later, Joyce would serve three terms on the national board of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, attending board meetings at the ACCD home office in Washington, D.C., and traveling around the country to answer questions about the new law. She also continued working as a disability counselor for nonprofits and as a telecommunications support representative in the private sector. By the mid-90s, however, her physicians had intervened and urged her to retire.

Joyce will be dearly missed by her family members. Among her survivors are siblings Thelma Stiles of Napa, California, LeRoy Charles Jackson, Jr. of Phoenix, Arizona, Gail (Frank) Harris of San Pedro, California, and Raymond (Lilia) Jackson of Fairfield, California; nieces Pamela Stiles of San Francisco, Monica (Jose) Blanco of San Pedro, and Ashley (Paul) Turek of San Francisco and Beverly Hills; nephew Vincent Jackson of Fairfield; grandnephew Dominic Blanco of San Pedro; and grandnieces Sophia Turek and Vanessa Turek of Beverly Hills.

Joyce’s survivors also include first cousins James (Gretchen) Peters III of Storrs, Connecticut, Donna (Cyril) Burke of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Kimberley Bourne-Vanneck of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Brenda Williams of New Orleans, and Richard (Andrea) Jackson Jr. of New Orleans; and second cousins Joy Jackson of New Orleans, Elizabeth (Greg) Howes of Iowa City, Iowa, Allison Bourne-Vanneck of St. Thomas, and Richard Bourne-Vanneck II of St. Thomas.

Joyce will be missed as well by her close friends and former colleagues in the San Francisco Bay Area and by the many friends she made while living with her sister Gail and brother-in-law Frank in San Pedro, Miami, Florida, and Frankfurt, Germany.

Joyce was preceded in death by her parents Bernice and LeRoy Charles Jackson, brother-in-law Patterson Stiles, Jr., aunts Marie Peters and Modess Jackson, uncles Richard Jackson and James Peters, and second cousin Richard Jackson III.

Donations in her memory can be sent to the Center for Independent Living, 3075 Adeline Street, Suite 100, Berkeley, CA 94703. Her burial niche rests at Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California. Plans for a celebration commemorating her life will be announced this spring.

Feel free to share your messages of condolence and/or memories of Joyce in the comments.

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