n Remembrance of Robert Coward by Gerrie-Drake Hawkins, Ph.D.
NCD Senior Policy Analyst
For a number of years, Mr. Robert (Bobby) Coward served as a staunch, capable, and respected representative of people with disabilities through Direct Action, his local advocacy leadership group in the District of Columbia and nationally with ADAPT. Coward passed away August 25, 2014. Among his many civic and activist activities, Bobby was also active at the national level with the National Council on Disability (NCD).
I met “Bobby” when he came to the NCD office in 2002 to ask for assistance with an upcoming panel presentation. After asking about his story, I learned very quickly that “self” was not his target.
No, he said. What Bobby really wanted to call attention to was people who did not have the opportunity nor sometimes the will to make their needs known and their rights observed by the “folk in power.” He also told me about being ticketed a number of times by the local police for riding his chair in the street when there were no curb cuts in the neighborhoods he traveled to meet with people who were downtrodden. That never stopped him. Bobby perpetually aimed to lift the spirits of other men, women, and youth living with disabilities. He was a dedicated spokesperson, sharing information about civil rights, and an encouraging cheerleader for self-advocacy.
During the period at least as far back as the 1990s, when many of us with “hidden disabilities” were still in the closet (as was the writer of this message), Bobby was often among the few, and sometimes the lone outspoken and non-apologetic voice of people with disabilities from diverse racial, ethnic, and low income groups.
From the street corners of DC, to Capitol Hill, to the White House during his most active times of advocacy, he was a true face of many people described in NCD’s renowned reportLift Every Voice: Modernizing Disability Policies and Programs to Serve a Diverse Nation.
Bobby also served on a number of key public policy panels sponsored by NCD in our efforts to raise awareness about some of the unmet unique needs of people who were/are not only living witnesses to personal, group, and institutional discrimination based on disability; he aptly represented the voice of people who were/are poor, disadvantaged economically or by the “station in life,” and people of color.
He embraced the causes across a broad spectrum of people from diverse groups. In his last service for the people through NCD, Bobby served from 2006 – 2008 as a member of the agency’s unique Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee, established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Mr. Bobby Coward, man of the people, armor bearer for the principles of justice, is a man who will be missed by all who knew him and an example for all.
Photo credit: Tim Wheat