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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

NCIL Mourns the Loss of Duane French

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of a giant in the disability rights field, Duane French. Duane was a longtime member of the Independent Living community and a previous NCIL Board Member. Duane died on September 12, 2019 at 65 years old, from cancer.

Duane was a lifelong advocate who began empowering others early in his involvement with the disability community. Lou Ann Kibbee, NCIL’s Secretary and longtime friend said, “Duane was the first disability advocate I met in 1977 when I started at Emporia State University (ESU) in Kansas, not long after acquiring my own disability. He was the President of the Handicapped Students Association. Duane got me fired up when I listened to him about making changes on the campus. I soon became the Secretary of the student group. He got me started on the advocacy road to making a difference for other people. Not sure what road I would have taken if I had not spent that first year at ESU and met Duane.”

Duane served in various roles in the Independent Living community. He was the Director of the League for Human Dignity, a Center for Independent Living (CIL) in Lincoln, Nebraska. He later moved to Alaska and became the Director of Access Alaska, the CIL in Anchorage.

After his time with Independent Living, Duane went on to become the Director of Vocational Rehabilitation in Alaska (while simultaneously heading up a local ADAPT chapter), and then moved to Washington to become the Director of Disability Services for the Department of Social & Health Services until he died. Aside from these roles, Duane fought, got arrested for, and was present for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act; ran for the Alaska Legislature multiple times; and was inducted into the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame as an inaugural inductee in 2005.

Duane was a mentor to many. He was a quiet leader who encouraged and pushed with a smile. He expected greatness and lived his life as a model of that. “Duane was a great man,” said Kelly Buckland, NCIL’s Executive Director. “A great leader, a visionary and a great friend. I will miss him being here, making the world a better place!”

Our sincerest condolences go out to Duane’s family and friends during this difficult time.

Read more about Dwayne’s legacy.

“Every person encounters challenges in their life. It’s the oppression, the prejudice and the discrimination that holds back far too many people from achieving the full extent of greatness in them. I hope in my lifetime I’ve done something to break through some of that oppression – that prejudice and discrimination – and made a difference for others so they wouldn’t have to experience it in their lifetime. To that extent, if people say I’m an inspiration, I’m ok with that.”

– Duane French, 2016

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  1. Garry Cappleman says

    I met Duane when he lived in Anchorage in the 1990’s. He stood out. He was a man of action. He had a charisma that flowed from a deep sense of integrity and self-worth. He touched my heart with his stories in the early days of getting the ADA passed. I am so sorry to hear that he has passed. I never forgot him. A genuine hero.

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