James “J.T.” Templeton, born with cerebral palsy and housed for 30 years in a Texas mental institution, wished for an ordinary life. But his advocacy for those with disabilities made his life extraordinary, his friends said.
Templeton died Monday . He was 59.
“Working with him helped develop and open my eyes to the civil rights struggle that people with disabilities are fighting,” said Spencer Duran , a project specialist with the Accessible Housing Austin advocacy group.
Templeton moved out of the Austin State School in 1986, following a landmark federal lawsuit filed in 1974 against what was then the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. In the 1990s, he was part of a group that sued the City of Austin to make parks and facilities more accessible. He joined protesters who took over former Gov. Ann Richards’ office in September 1991 to urge lawmakers to spend money for state schools on community-based initiatives for the disabled instead.
His close friend Stephanie Thomas said Templeton spoke to numerous lawmakers, including a U.S. Senate committee, and became a “voice for those with disabilities.”