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NY Disability Rights Activist Pat Figueroa Dies

Pat Figueroa
Patricio "Pat" Figueroa, Jr., 63, passed away on April 3, 2012 at Albany Medical Center. Born in Catano, Puerto Rico on April 20, 1948, he was the son of the late Patricio and Josefina (Velez) Figueroa, Sr. He was one of ten children.

Pat was a talented artist, an author, a disability activist and advocate for people with disabilities, publisher, web designer, an inventor, entrepreneur, husband and father.

He founded the first Independent Living Center in New York State in 1978, CIDNY; co-founded the 504 Democratic Club; created and edited the national Independent Living website,; and was the publisher of the national disability newspaper, Independence Today .

On November 21, 1980, Pat Figueroa, Jr., and the staffs of CIDNY, BILC, and members of Disabled In Action (DIA), took over the headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York, trapping then M.T.A. Chairman Richard Ravitch for more than 10 hours.

The event got national and international coverage even though John Tesh, then a local reporter for the CBS Channel 6 affiliate, was the only reporter allowed in to speak to the sit-in demonstrators. The disabled activists, all part of a group named Mass-transit Thru Access, blocked the three elevators with wheelchairs, and blocked the doors to the stairwells with heavy desks, filling cabinets, and other heavy items after letting staff members leave down the staircase.

Figueroa, the leader and mastermind of the takeover of the MTA headquarters, refused to release Ravitch until he committed to negotiating in good faith with the disability community.

Around 7 p.m., the NYC Tactical Squad forced one of the stairwell doors opened and moved in to remove the protesters. All 232 demonstrators were removed; none were arrested.

Ravitch was forced to negotiate with the disability community, and eventually lost a lawsuit, under NYS law, that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Americans with Disabilities Act cites this lawsuit litigated by James Weisman of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association.

"Struggling for disability advances has been akin to guerrilla warfare," Figueroa explained, "and at times my tactics had some people labeling me the 'Che Guevara of disability.'"

You can read or listen to his oral history on the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement at the UC-Berkeley's website.


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