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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Mourns the Loss of Marca Bristo

To our NCIL family,

It is with a heavy heart that we write to inform you of the passing of Marca Bristo. Marca passed away on Sunday, September 8 from cancer. Until stepping down just recently because of her prognosis, Marca was President and CEO of Access Living, the Center for Independent Living she founded in Chicago, IL nearly 40 years ago. She co-founded NCIL in 1982 and served as our second President. Marca was a tireless activist who dedicated her life to fighting for disability rights, and the Independent Living community has lost an incredible advocate and friend.

Sarah Launderville, NCIL’s President and long-time friend of Marca described Marca as a force and a kindred spirit. Sarah said, “Marca was a trailblazing advocate. She had a very kind heart and built relationships, and she also had a sharp edge that got things done. She will be deeply missed, and my heart goes out to the IL community as we grieve this incredible loss.”

Marca was a staunch advocate for local, national, and international disability rights for over four decades. In addition to her roles with Access Living and NCIL, she served as the first disabled Chair of the National Council on Disability (NCD) from 1994-2002 and more recently as the President of the U.S. International Council on Disabilities. Her advocacy led to some of our community’s biggest achievements, including helping to author the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and participating in negotiations for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Marca has received numerous awards and honors for her disability rights work including: the Distinguished Service Award of the President of the United States in 1992; the Henry B. Betts Laureate in 1993; the 2007 Chicagoan of the Year by Chicago Magazine; being selected as a co-chair of Governor Pritzker’s Transition Committee on Human Rights; and just this summer, being awarded NCIL’s Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Annual NCIL Conference.

Kelly Buckland, NCIL’s Executive Director, said, “I will remember Marca for a lot of reasons, but the one that most often comes to mind was my first NCIL Conference in 1989. Marca was President of NCIL and led a March on the White House to get President George H.W. Bush to support the ADA. That led to a meeting between the NCIL leadership and the White House the next morning, and eventually led to White House support for the ADA. She was truly a great leader and I am honored that I got to know and work with her. The world is a better place because of her.”

Marca was in a league of her own. The Independent Living Movement has lost a passionate and visionary leader. She will be missed dearly, but her memory will certainly live on. And, as a previous Board Member and leader in the Independent Living movement, Marca’s picture will be added to the Wall of Fame in the NCIL office.

We would like to express our sincere condolences to Marca’s family and friends during this difficult time. A private funeral and burial will be held for Marca’s family. A public memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Read more about Marca in Access Living’s tribute.

Marca Bristo and Judy Heumann clasp hands and smile for a photo from the stage at the 2007 NCIL Annual Conference on Independent Living
Marca Bristo and Judy Heumann smile and pose for a photo from the stage at the NCIL Annual Conference on Independent Living

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