In Loving Memory of Dr. Steven E. Brown, “Father of Disability Culture”

10/26/1951–11/08/2023

Aimée Brown Gramblin
3 min readNov 30, 2023
Photo from author’s collection. Steve Brown in Taiwan in 2016.

Steven E. Brown, Ph.D. of Surprise, AZ, died November 8, 2023, at the age of 72. Steve was born October 26, 1951, in Manitowoc, WI. He also lived in Michigan, Illinois, Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Arizona. He is survived by his beloved wife, Lillian, brother Martin Brown (Rochel), sister Barb Brown (Jane Greischar), daughter Aimée Gramblin (David), grandchildren Jaden & Cecilia Gramblin, and numerous nieces, nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.

Steve lived with a rare genetic condition called Gaucher Disease. After obtaining his Ph.D. in the 1980s Steve was approached by a company to research and write its history. The job offer was rescinded when the company discovered he had a disability. He was told that because he walked with crutches they felt he didn’t have the stamina to do the job. This catapulted him into his career as a disability activist, fighting for the rights of people with disabilities, starting with the GD foundation, and moving forward to his numerous accomplishments, including seminars, conferences, and workshops Steve presented and participated in around the world.

A humanitarian with a gift for personal connections and connecting people, Steve acquired a Ph.D. in History at the University of Oklahoma and remained a lifelong historian. His daughter was born in Norman during that time. In 1991, Steve moved to Berkeley, CA where he took the position of Research and Training Director at the World Institute on Disability (WID). Shortly after relocating, he met Lillian (Lil) over chocolate, and after agreeing neither was looking for a relationship, they became the love of each other’s life and married within a year. They were married for 32 years.

After moving to New Mexico in 1992, Steve and Lil cofounded the Institute On Disability Culture in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they lived for 10 years before moving to Honolulu, where he accepted a professorial position at the Center on Disability Studies at the University of Hawaii. He remained at UH until he retired in 2018, moving back to California for a few years before settling in Surprise, Arizona.

A fierce advocate and champion for disability rights, Steve saw the ADA finally pass in 1990. In 2012, Steve was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Contribution to Persons with Disabilities, one of many accolades and honors he received over the years. Steve took his daughter as an aide to Taiwan in 2016; there he was a featured speaker at a Disability Culture conference. Aimée had the honor and pleasure of seeing the relationships he fostered and the powerful teachings he shared to connect, inspire, and catalyze change.

Steve authored several articles and books, including Movie Stars and Sensuous Scars, Surprised to be Standing, and a recent manuscript not yet published on the history of the Disability Movement. He loved synchronicities. Steve was a rock hound, nature lover, and devoted student of metaphysics. As his career grew, so did his reputation until he was honored with the moniker “Father of Disability Culture” in the US. He was also a poet, an avid scholar, and a voracious reader. Steve had a deep appreciation for art, movies, and people of different cultures. He was as interested in teaching as he was in learning.

He worked as a healer later in life, offering RCT (Reconnective Therapy) work to many appreciative recipients.

Life took Steve down many adventurous paths and he was eager for the adventures. Steve was an adoring grandfather to Jaden and Ceci, who will carry his love for them always. Family meant the world to him, and he was compassionately generous with the love and support he gifted.

A small in-person gathering was held in Surprise, AZ, on November 14, 2023, to honor Steve. A global Zoom memorial is being planned for the new year.

Contributions may be made to the GoFundMe, In Memory of Steve Brown, which will enable Lillian to continue living independently while being able to safely get about the community.

This obituary is a collective effort produced with Aimée Gramblin as the lead writer.

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Aimée Brown Gramblin

Age of Empathy founder. Creativity Fiend. Writer, Editor, Poet: life is art. Nature, Mental Health, Psychology, Art. https://www.linkedin.com/in/aimeegramblin/