Council Members and staff of the National Council on Disability (NCD) are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of Richard Devylder, a long time disability advocate and former appointee at the U.S. Department of Transportation, who passed away suddenly Saturday August 8th.
Most recently, Richard served as the Chief of the Office for Access in the California Governor’s Office for Emergency Services. Prior to that he had served as the Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Transportation, under Secretary Ray LaHood.
Born in 1969, Richard was placed in the foster care system after his biological parents abandoned him. His foster parents played a critical role shaping the course of Richard’s life from a young age. They chose to remove him from a segregated education for an inclusive setting; to throw out ill-fitting prosthetic arms rather than simply “make do” with them; and to encourage development of a positive and confident self-image. “Kids did it with their hands, I did it with my mouth” he once said during an interview with the newspaper, “The Daily 49er” of the university he attended, California State University Long Beach (CSULB).
After graduating CSULB, he went to work for Southern California Rehabilitation Services and Independent Living where he continued working to help people with disabilities access the tools and services they needed to become economically self-sufficient, and live independently. Two passions became key foci of his work -- emergency preparedness and transportation. Richard saw both as lifelines for the disability community. People with disabilities were a key constituency that needed to be engaged in discussions of emergency management throughout the planning and recovery process, and transportation was an issue central to people with disabilities truly having equal access.
Richard never forgot about what it was like to be a young person with a disability trying to figure out the complex web of supports, services, and accommodations he needed to be successful and always believed in the importance of mentoring disability leaders new to the movement.
He particularly felt passionate about the California State Youth Leadership Forum, the first of its kind in the country, designed to train up the next generation of advocates. Richard served as staff, mentor, and goodhearted troublemaking elder brother to dozens of delegates and alumni over the years.
In May 2010, the White House called Richard, asking him to join the U.S. Department of Transportation as the Senior Advisor for Accessible Transportation. His mantra while there was that people with disabilities didn’t want a “special” or “segregated” system, rather they had the right to have equal access to the system used by the public. He served in this role until he chose to go back to his home state in 2013.
“When I think of Richard Devylder, my friend, and my colleague, I think about what Congressman Lewis says about the ‘time to get in the way’ or finding yourself ‘getting into right kind of trouble,’” says NCD Executive Director Rebecca Cokley. “It always seemed like Richard was in the right kind of trouble or getting in the way of issues that would have had a negative impact on the disability community. His presence at so many of those tables will be missed.”
NCD extends its sincere condolences to his biological family -- his mother Joan, sister Crystal and niece Nanci -- and to his disability community family -- including but not limited to Brenda Premo, June Kailes, Curtis Richards, and Christina Mills among many others.