Linda Gheer of Portland, Oregon is a long-time self-advocate. She serves as Board of Directors President for Independent Northwest, a nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities.
But in the 1970s, she was living in a state-run institution and she didn’t like it. Linda wanted to make her own decisions. She wanted to sleep late if she felt like it, eat when she was hungry rather than in the cafeteria at a pre-assigned time, and mostly, she wanted to hang out with her friends. They were the same things just about any teenager would want. Other residents at the institution felt the same way.
Linda, and hundreds of other young people, lived at Fairview Training Center. For almost a century, the state-run institution housed those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In 1974, several residents joined together to create an organization created for, and by, people with disabilities. It was called People First.
“People First was to help people get out of on their own and not live in a group home anymore and speak up for themselves,” Linda Gheer said.
People First held its first convention at Otter Crest in 1974. Over 500 people attended. That meeting on the Oregon coast is generally considered the beginning of the self-advocacy movement in the United States.
Today there are People First organizations in over 40 countries. They each work to improve the lives of their members and all people with disabilities.
Linda moved out of Fairview more than 40 years ago and remains an active self-advocate.
This story is part of Move to Include, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.