Marca Bristo, Influential Advocate for the Disabled, Dies at 66

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In 1993, President Clinton nominated her to head the National Council on Disability. She served in that role until 2002. She was elected president of the United States International Council on Disabilities and traveled around the world to promote efforts on behalf of the disabled.

“Marca Bristo’s trailblazing leadership and bold strategic vision secured historic progress for every American with a disability and their families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “With Marca’s passing, our nation has lost an extraordinary champion for the rights of people with disabilities.”

Her signature achievement was helping to pass the A.D.A. She was a protégé of Justin Dart Jr., vice chair of the National Council on Disability, and someone Ms. Bristo referred to as the “Martin Luther King of the disability rights movement” in a 2015 blog celebrating the 25th anniversary of the A.D.A.’s passage. They worked closely and she made pointed suggestions for ways to improve the legislation.

“My husband spotted her to be a future leader,” Yoshiko Dart said of Mr. Dart, who died in 2002. “She had principle and passion and wasn’t afraid of saying things to people. She insisted on justice for all types of people.”

In the 1980s, as a member of United States Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans With Disabilities, she connected with then-Congressman Tony Coelho of California, who, along with Senator Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, introduced the original A.D.A. bill to the 100th Congress in 1988. In her role, Ms. Bristo helped draft and amend the bill that eventually made its way to the president’s desk two years later.

“She was one of the strongest advocates, from the grass-roots side,” Mr. Coelho said in an interview on Saturday. “To a great extent, without the grass-roots effort, we wouldn’t have gotten the A.D.A.” Not content with the passage of the bill, Ms. Bristo spent the rest of her life making sure it was consistently implemented.

Marcia Lynn Bristo was born on June 23, 1953, in Albany, N.Y., to Earl Clayton Bristo and Dorothy Madeline Bristo. She spent her childhood on a family farm, along with her older brother, Paul, and sister, Gail, in Castleton, N.Y. before the family moved to West Winfield, N.Y.


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