Chris Elms, 1954-2002
In Remembrance of Our Friend and Fellow Disability Rights Leader, Chris Elms
Chris Elms, President of Californians for Disability Rights and a respected advocate and leader in the disability community, died unexpectedly on November 7, 2002, from complications resulting from pulmonary hypertension. Chris was born on May 9, 1954 in Oklahoma. Being born with spina bifida he became involved in disability advocacy early in life when, in elementary school his parents had to fight to have him become the first person with a disability in his school to be mainstreamed. He attended high school in Fullerton, received his Bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, and completed law school at the University of California at Davis.
Chris was intensely interested in politics and this was reflected in his professional career in state government. He worked for the Energy Commission, the University of California, and most recently, for the Air Resources Board. Most of these jobs involved serving as a legislative analyst working with the California Legislature. His friends in Sacramento always looked forward to his election night parties and to working on campaigns with Chris.
While in law school, Chris was a member of the Disabled Students Coalition. Later he became actively involved in Disabled in State Service and Californians for Disability Rights. He served as President of the Sacramento CDR Chapter in the early 90’s and then as chair of the Political Action Committee and the Legislative committee for CDR for many years. Later he became Vice President and then President of CDR for three years. Chris was one of the most knowledgeable and well-respected leaders in the disability rights movement in California. His leadership was key in the successful battle to make City Hall in Sacramento accessible.
Due to his leadership in this effort, he was appointed to serve on the City of Sacramento Design Review Board. His skill at crafting and shepherding bills through the legislative process helped CDR to score a number of important legislative victories over the past ten years including improving access to refueling services at gas stations, allowing disability discrimination claims to be brought in small claims court, making college textbooks accessible for students with disabilities, and placing many of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act into state law so they cannot be eroded by the increasingly conservative federal courts.
Although his family, friends, colleagues and fellow advocates will greatly miss Chris, we will always remember the important contributions he made and make a commitment to carry on the work of the agenda for social justice that we shared.