Disability Rights Pioneer Dies

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August 9, 2010
Paul Longmore - Photo credit:San Francisco State University
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Paul Longmore, a professor of history at San Francisco State University, died on August 8, 2010 of natural causes. He was 64.

Longmore, a scholar of the American Revolution, was a leading figure in the developing academic field of disability studies. In 1996, he helped found San Francisco State's Institute on Disabilities, and he served as its director until his death.

Longmore not only documented, analyzed, and interpreted the disability rights movement, he was one of its leading activists.

He contracted polio at age 7 and required a ventilator and attendants, paid by state and federal assistance programs, to help him with basic life activities like eating, showering and dressing.

It took the determined scholar more than 12 year to complete his Ph.D. because he could not obtain sufficient funding to finish the degree in a timely manner. Administrators at his graduate school denied him a fellowship because they believed he would never find a teaching job. The state Department of Rehabilitation initially refused to pay for his doctoral studies but eventually provided minimal support.

In 1988, Longmore staged a public demonstration and burned a copy of his first book, The Invention of George Washington, in front of the federal building in downtown Los Angeles. He did this to protest a Social Security Administration  regulation which discouraged people with disabilities from working by denying them government assistance if they earned more than a minimal amount, including book royalties. 

In a policy change known as the Longmore Amendment, the Social Security Administration allowed people with disabilities to earn book royalties and still receive benefits.

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