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The Center on Colfax

Kitty Cone (1944-2015)


Kitty Cone being interviewed by reporters at the 504 sit-in. Photo provided by the Center for Independent Living.

Kitty Cone, a lesbian who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of fifteen, significantly contributed to the disability rights movement. As her disease progressed, Cone began to use a wheelchair and inaccessibility became an
issue. She was a student activist at the University of Illinois where she also spoke out against apartheid in South Africa and simultaneously rallied against housing segregation in Champaign, Illinois. Her activism blossomed as a member of the Students for a Democratic Society. She also participated with the Socialist Workers Party in late 1960s and early 1970s in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In 1972, Cone moved to San Francisco from Chicago. She started to speak out more because there were no lifts on buses, buildings were inaccessible, and bathroom doors were too narrow. She became involved with the Center for Independent Living, which helped people with disabilities become more self-reliant. Cone also spoke out for curb ramps, attendant care, and disability access to the Bay Area’s various transportation options.

It was during her time at the Center of Independent Living that Cone became one of the leaders and top strategist for the Section 504 Sit-In held in San Francisco (See The 1970s and the 504 Sit-In) in 1977. She was known for her organizational and coalition-building skills as she mobilized various activists’ groups, such as the Black Panthers, who provided hot meals to the disabled activists, and the machinist union workers, who rented trucks to help transport the group to Washington, D.C. Cone’s efforts were rewarded when the Section 504 regulations were signed on April 28, 1977. She also held leadership roles with the World Institute on Disability and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund. Cone and her partner, Kathy Martinez, also disabled, moved to Mexico in 1984 because they were unable to marry or adopt children in the U.S. and adopted a son, Jorge. Together, Cone and Martinez, organized and continued advocating for the disabled until Cone passed away in 2015 at the age of seventy.