Power in Principle

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Who Was Floyd McBurney?

Students may be familiar with the name McBurney as it is the name’s sake of the Disability Resource Center at the UW Madison campus. However, they probably do not know much about his life or why the office is named after him. Floyd Michael McBurney born on January 11, 1938, in Madison, Wisconsin. He was a student at UW Madison in 1956-1960, and a graduate of the UW Madison law school in 1963. When earning his law degree, he graduated third in his class. After this, he practiced law with his father, who was also a lawyer, for three years. His next accomplishment was that he was elected as the Dane County district attorney in 1966. Sadly, he passed away on February 20, 1967. What makes this man unique is that at age 16 before he applied for university, he fell off a pier which resulted in a cervical spinal cord injury and had quadriplegia for the rest of his life. What makes him so special to the Disability Resource Center is that despite this disability and the difficulties surrounding it at the time, he was able to accomplish a lot in his schooling and career.

While he was a student at the university, he became friends with James Graaskamp who was a professor at the business school. As two wheelchair users, these men paved the way for many students’ accessibility at the school. After McBurney passed, Graaskamp proposed the idea of starting a disability resource center for UW Madison, which would be started by funds donated in his memory. By working with McBurney’s family and school officials, his idea became a reality in 1977. This was thirteen years before the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed, which was a federal legislative effort to end discrimination towards people with disabilities and worked to guaranteeing inclusive accessibility. Today there are over 3500 students who use the disability center. While our school has never been the “perfect” atmosphere for people with disabilities, Floyd McBurney’s legacy and the disability resource center help us stay committed to that goal.

For more information on the resource center, visit their website at https://mcburney.wisc.edu.


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