Anita Silvers, an Authority on Disability Rights, Dies at 78

Anita Silvers, an Authority on Disability Rights, Dies at 78


Anita Silvers was born on Nov. 1, 1940, in Brooklyn to Seymour and Sarah (Rashall) Silvers.

“She went to Girl Scout camp in 1949 and returned with a severe case of polio,” her brother, David N. Silvers, said, “which required her to spend over a year in an iron lung,” the respiration device.

The disease left her with partial quadriplegia. She was angry about her limited mobility, her brother said, but was also determined not to be constrained by the condition. He illustrated that determination with a story about a cross-country trip.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree at Sarah Lawrence College in 1962, she earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1967 and was hired to teach philosophy at San Francisco State. She needed a car to drive to her new job.

“If you’re profoundly disabled and you go cross-country in a car,” David Silvers said in a telephone interview, “the logical thing to do is to get a Ford or a Chevrolet, because if you break down you can get parts.”

Instead, he said, she bought a British car, a Rover.

“That to me is a microcosm of what she was all about,” he said. “If she wanted a Rover she would get a Rover, regardless of whether it made sense in terms of her disability.”

Dr. Silvers’s brother is her only immediate survivor.

Dr. Silvers’s expertise in aesthetics led President Jimmy Carter to appoint her to the National Council on the Humanities in 1980. In 1989 she and three co-authors, Margaret P. Battin, John Fisher and Ronald Moore, published “Puzzles About Art: An Aesthetics Casebook.”

At a recent symposium honoring the legacy of Jacobus tenBroek, founder of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Silvers recalled one of the things that led her to turn her attention to disability rights. She said two blind students, having heard that there was a professor on campus with a disability, sought her help in getting into a math class whose professor had turned them away. Dr. Silvers, who used a motorized scooter to get around campus, went to see him.



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