Bobbi Linn smiling directly at the camera

Over her five-decade career as a disability rights advocate, Bobbi Linn has served as a role model demonstrating how a person with a significant developmental disability can run an agency and serve as a community leader, and how a person with a speech disability can effectively speak out for change.

Bobbi’s involvement with disability rights began in her teens. In the late 1960s, she began studying at New York University.  While working to obtain the accommodations she required from the university, she realized that the school had little understanding of the needs of individuals with disabilities – so she reached out to her peers.  Fellow students with disabilities began looking to Bobbi as their advocate for an Office for Disabled Students. During her undergraduate years, she crossed over from the role of advocate to one of leader.

Bobbi was a founding member of Disabled in Action and the founder and first executive director of Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS), which she considers her greatest accomplishment.  During her 20-year tenure, BILS overcame multiple challenges and helped bring about numerous systems changes in Bronx County.  These included persuading a major medical center to provide sign language interpreters for the deaf and a large movie complex to provide captioning, and advocating for the expansion of paratransit services beyond personal medical appointments.

Under Bobbi’s leadership, BILS also secured new funding sources, extended its services, and introduced future leaders in the independent living movement to the IL philosophy.  Mildred Caballero-Ho, Sharon Shapiro-Lacks, and Zainab Jama all count Bobbi as a role model.  When Bobbi became too ill to continue as executive director, the board members she had mentored rose to the challenge of keeping the organization active through its transition.

Bobbi was an early appointed member of the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC), serving as chair in the late 1990s.  Before founding BILS, Bobbi worked with the Center for Independence of the Disabled as one of the first ILC advocacy counselors in New York.  She and her late colleague Ann Marie Tully were instrumental in spreading the word about the Social Security Administration’s Work Incentives Provisions, which allows people with disabilities to go to work without losing their Social Security benefits.  Consumers, independent living advocates, and even local statewide systems advocacy offices have benefited from their educational outreach in this area.

As with many disability rights advocates, Bobbi’s mission grew out of her efforts to exercise her own right to a quality, independent life.   Along the way, she has helped bring about that outcome for a vast network of peers.