“All blind roads lead to Berkeley,” says Joshua Miele, a longtime resident of the Bay Area city.
Miele’s road led him to Berkeley from Rockland County, N.Y., where he first developed a love of tactile maps as a boy. He became a student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the fall of 1987, as a physics major. For others, it was a shorter journey to the Bay, from neighboring cities and towns.
But together, these voyagers — drawn to Berkeley mostly for its prestigious university — formed a sizable and formidable disability community that has shaped the world. A generation of blind leaders and innovators has come out of UC Berkeley and more specifically, from “The Cave.”
The Cave was a study suite for blind students in the basement of Moffitt Library, meant for doing homework and meeting with sighted readers. But in the wake of the groundbreaking disability rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s, The Cave became a hub of community, one where young people who were excluded from mainstream society could learn to break through bureaucracy and discrimination, and understand their own identities.
Many went on to be changemakers, leading major nonprofit organizations and law firms, working in accessibility, writing books, guiding adventure tours, and more.
Some notable Cave alumni include:
Joshua Miele is a 2021 MacArthur “genius grant” winner who builds adaptive technologies at Amazon. He has been an educator, inventor, and board president of the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Marc Sutton works at Apple, finding software bugs and designing solutions that make it possible for blind people to use the company’s products, including phones and computers.
Lori Gray is the adventures and outings program manager at the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, which offers recreation opportunities to people with disabilities.
Dennis Fantin is a retired chemistry and physics instructor and research professor at Cal Poly College of Science and Mathematics, where he developed and led a chemistry lab for visually impaired high schoolers.
Thomas Foley is a tax lawyer, financial planner, and executive director of the National Disability Institute in Washington, D.C., which helps people with disabilities reach financial security.
Bryan Bashin is CEO of the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and is serving a five-year term on the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, which works to employ, through federal contractors, people who are blind or have other disabilities.
Fatemeh Haghighi is a professor of neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and runs the epigenetics-focused Haghighi Lab at James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center in New York.
Roberto Gonzalez is an alternate media specialist at Berkeley City College, where he helps find appropriate and accessible educational materials for students with disabilities.
Ryutaro “Rudy” Hirota is the managing attorney of his San Francisco-based law firm, which offers services in English and Japanese to domestic and international clients.
Debee Armstrong (Norling) works as an alternate media specialist at De Anza, a community college in Cupertino, Calif.
Ved Mehta was the author of more than two dozen books, and a writer for the New Yorker, and other publications. He was also a MacArthur “genius grant” winner. Mehta died in January 2021.
Jeff Moyer is a musician, talk show host, commentator, and author. He has been a member of the disability rights movement since the ’70s, and helped develop programs for people with visual disabilities at the Center for Independent Living.
Who did we miss? Let us know: [email protected].
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