Michael Winter, a disability advocate since the 1960s and longtime DOT employee, died suddenly July 11. He was a lifetime wheelchair user born with osteogenesis imperfecta, known informally as “OI” or “brittle bones.”
Winter joined the Berkeley Center for Independent Living in California as an intern in 1977 and then was its client service manager for four years. After two years directing a similar facility in Hawaii, he returned to the Berkeley center and served 12 years as its director.
While in Berkeley, Winter served six years on the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District Board of Directors. He also was president of the National Council on Independent Living from 1991-1995.
Winter joined DOT in 1994 as a special assistant to the associate deputy secretary and director of the Office of Intermodalism. From 1997-2000, he was FTA associate administrator for budget and policy. Beginning in 2001, he had responsibility for the full range of federal civil rights issues at DOT as they applied to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and environmental justice issues.
He was active with the National Council on Disability and an advisor to Easter Seals Project ACTION (ESPA).
“Michael was a lifelong champion for people with disabilities and a true advocate for accessible public transit,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “We are a much better industry because of him.”
“Michael’s passing leaves an enormous void in accessible transportation policy, as well as the perspective of a transit advocate who understood transit policy and financing combined with a user’s perspective,” said Donna McNamee, chair, APTA Transit Board Members ADA Subcommittee, and past chair, ESPA National Steering Committee. “He will be seriously missed by the disability community and in the transit industry for his keen insight and leadership relative to accessibility, as well as his advocacy efforts fostered by his passionate understanding of the needs of passengers with disabilities.”
FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff said: “During Michael’s years of service at FTA, he made significant contributions to advancing transit access for all Americans and ensuring that the nation’s public transit systems fully complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act. His expertise, commitment, and good humor will be missed by all of us. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife and to all his family and friends. He will be greatly missed.”
In an 2007 interview with Independence Today, Winter described himself as “a father, son, civil rights activist, former president of the National Council on Independent Living, director of an agency in the federal bureaucracy . . . and a Chicago Bears fan.”
In 2011, Winter was interviewed in Eric Nuedel’s documentary Lives Worth Living, which chronicled the rise of the U.S. disability rights movement. He recounted an incident when disability activists gathered in the U.S. Capitol protesting inaction on ADA, and were approached by a tour guide. “I have to tell you something,” Winter told her—and viewers of the film later. “I don’t think these people are here for a tour.”