Karen Greebon, 1942-2005

“Activist devoted life to keeping people with disabilities out of institutions”
By Joshunda Sanders
Monday, September 26, 2005

Karen Greebon, an Austin disability rights activist who fought against placing people with disabilities in nursing homes, died Sept. 19. She was 63. Greebon died from complications associated with liver problems, her partner of more than 14 years, James Templeton said.

Bob Kafka, a national and state organizer with American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, said that the week before her death, Greebon was in Washington fighting against Medicaid cuts despite her poor health. “She was one of the most really committed, hard-headed and strong-speaking women,” he said.

Greebon, who had cerebral palsy, was born in New Braunfels. When her family could not take care of her anymore, she was placed in a nursing home. At the time, there were no in-home services for people with disabilities. She lived in a Luling nursing home for 12 years.

“I can tell you it is no place for children, young adults or old people,” Greebon said of the nursing home experience in 1993 at a protest urging the Texas Department of Human Services to allow people with disabilities to live in community-based homes.

She became an activist because she believed that nursing homes did not allow people to have their own lives or do what they wanted to do, Templeton said. United Cerebral Palsy of Texas helped her become independent, and in 1990 she became an active member of the local chapter of American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today. 

It was there that she met Templeton, who also has cerebral palsy. “I really fell in love with her when I first met her,” Templeton said. “It was love at first sight.” Together, they worked on aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said. In 1998, they moved into a home together with the help of A Home of Your Own, a program that offers low-interest loans to people with disabilities.

Greebon is survived by a brother who lives in New Braunfels. 

“The issue of getting and keeping people out of institutions is a civil rights issue,“ Kafka said. “Karen should be held up as one of the leaders of civil rights in Texas. If one had to write a bumper sticker for Karen, it would say, ‘Our homes, not nursing homes.’ That’s something she actually felt deep in her heart.”