Bruce smiling, pictured from the chest up

Bruce Darling has spent more than three decades advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.  In his many roles - as CEO of the Center for Disability Rights and the Rochester-based Regional Center for Independent Living; president of the National Council on Independent Living; vice-chair of the New York State Independent Living Council (NYSILC), and national organizer for ADAPT - he has been at the forefront of breaking down barriers and empowering individuals with disabilities across his local area, New York State, and the entire country.

Bruce was first introduced to disability advocacy in his youth, when he helped his grandfather, who had lost both legs to diabetes, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles for a license to drive with hand controls.  The building was not accessible, and Bruce and his grandfather had to wait hours for assistance.

While this experience stayed with him, it did not set him directly on the path to a career in advocacy.   As a young man working for the Rochester Public Library, he encountered a group of disability activists protesting the facility’s lack of communication access.  The protest piqued his interest, and he began working with the group.  One of his first direct actions involved advocating for accessibility in Monroe County’s public transit system. This brought him into a conversation with his friend and mentor, Adele Carson, about community integration - and cemented his resolve to devote himself to ensuring life and liberty for all people with disabilities.

In the 1980s, Bruce joined the staff of the Rochester Center for Independent Living and organized a local ADAPT Chapter. In 1990, he co-founded the Center for Disability Rights (CDR) which provides support services at several locations in Western New York, operates a policy office in Albany, and has a national Policy Director in Washington, D.C.

Under Bruce’s leadership, CDR established the Community Supplemental Needs Pooled Trust, which gives Medicaid recipients an alternative to “spending down” excess income to qualify for coverage.  This program serves consumers across the state and continues to grow as more people learn about and use the option.

While Bruce’s accomplishments in advancing quality of life for those with disabilities are numerous and noteworthy, he would say that his greatest accomplishment to date was his leadership role in the “Summer of ADAPT,” when disability advocates across the country mobilized to protect Medicaid from the onslaught of cuts proposed in 2017.  This was the longest spanning series of consistent direct actions – with the largest geographical spread – the disability community has ever held, and it would not have been possible without Bruce’s leadership.  Bruce has been diligently organizing and advocating for support to pass the Disability Integration Act, which explicitly states that every individual has a federally protected right to choose how they receive long-term services and support.

Bruce is committed to training the next generation of disability advocates through leadership education for young people with disabilities.  Thanks to his dedication and stewardship, the future of the movement is in good hands.