News

Linda Bidabe, 1945 - 2017

Founder, visionary, advocate and friend

November 03, 2017 by Carmen Hinkey

Heroes and social giants belong to other times and other places. We see the well- known images of Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Schindler, and we know where they lived, what they did, and why we remember them. We know who the famous people are.

A full portrait of Linda Bidable, founder of the mobility opportunties via education program.A lesser known woman, but one who is no less a hero is Linda Bidabe. Those who know her know that she developed movement science concepts ahead of her time, and broke wide open the opportunities available to the most severely involved individuals. Grit and gumption transformed Linda from a reliable Kern County Schools employee to a maverick special education teacher determined to give her children a chance to get off their bean-bag chairs. Flying in the face of conventionally-taught therapeutic practices, her brain-child, MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education), developed into a ground-breaking curriculum that has changed thousands of lives.

So while there may be some who question placing Linda in such rarified company of international humanitarian heroes, among those of us who knew her and watched her at work it is no stretch at all. News of her passing prompted a flurry of memories within the Rifton family, including an exchange of emails with a friend, Chris Voll, now living half-way around the world in Australia, who in the 1990s co-authored Linda’s memoirs, No Ordinary Move. We talked about her influence and charisma, and about her legacy. Chris wrote:

The year I spent working with Linda to write her memoir was one I’ll never forget. Together we retraced her journey from Midwest farmer’s daughter to pioneering educator. Along the way I was privileged to meet Linda’s family and some of her childhood friends; to explore the world of 1950s Kansas as well as her difficult yet formative relationship with her father; to hear stories of children warehoused as “beanbag kids” – and of Linda’s outrage when she learned no one was advocating for them. Of her determination that things don’t have to stay as they are, just because “that’s the way it’s always been.”

Linda was that rare combination of immense intellect and immense heart. I’m not sure can’t was in her vocabulary. Whether diving into an ice-cold river to save her sister from drowning, or teaching herself computer programming so she could found an enterprise designing software for children with learning disabilities, Linda tenaciously tackled problems and went about solving them. Put simply, she was born to help other people. That’s who she was, and part of her legacy is the challenge to the rest of us to do the same.

The Rifton team first met Linda in 1988 at the Blair School in Bakersfield, California, where she was implementing her visionary ideas using devices made in a garage out of bent pipe, foam and duct tape.  Recognition was immediate. “This is the future of developmental therapy,” declared a Rifton administrator. 

Linda Bidabe smiles as she touches noses with a young boy with disabilities enrolled in the MOVE curriculum.As a young member of the Rifton family, I knew Linda by sight, I had heard her speak, and I knew what she was about. She would visit the Rifton locations when she was on the East Coast, and talk to us about the life-changing possibilities opening up for kiddos who had until now been consigned to floor mats. She described her own surprise at the profound changes in the lives of the children enrolled in curriculum.  She was an evangelist, bringing incredibly good news to families and educators alike, and we were all believers.

In 1992 I moved with my husband and children to Germany, where we imported Rifton devices and sold them into schools and facilities. Forward thinkers, the disability professionals were eager to implement the curriculum that used our products. Linda came over to conduct trainings, and my husband and I set up and managed her tours, typically eight to ten days of seminars and workshops in strategic locations, attended by therapists, healthcare workers, teachers and parents. A Kansas-to-California girl to the core, she jolted the Nordic sensibilities of her German audiences, but it didn’t take long until they were eating from her hand and clamoring for more.

Linda’s arrivals in Germany were highly anticipated, even the one that occurred three weeks after the birth of our third child. She stayed with us when not on the road, and we spent many hours together, Linda in the rocking chair with my newborn in her arms, singing to her: Michelle, ma belle…. Those were beautiful moments, and Linda and I talked about anything and everything as she relaxed and I healed. Over the years, Linda always asked about her, and neither of us imagined that one day this child would dream of becoming a physical therapist herself. My last contact with Linda was an email letting her know that her ‘baby’ had been accepted into Duke’s DPT program.

Linda Bidabe, founder of MOVE international smiles as she holds hands with a young boy with disabilities learning to walk. Several years later, back in New York, we continued to participate in MOVE events and trainings, Model Site inaugurations, and hosted Linda in our home and on the road. Of course, I was only one among hundreds who benefited from Linda’s ability to make whoever she was with feel the entirety of her attention and focus, compassion and friendship--indeed, her gift. Whether she was with me in the sunlight of my home, or connecting with a parent and child in front of a bank of intent therapists and clinicians, her unwavering focus and commitment to her dream was a force of nature.

Linda had the humility to know when to hand over the reins to new visionaries with new energy. She had some years of retirement, enjoyed her grandchildren, relaxed and rested. Cancer took her quickly; her passing on October 25th was unexpected for all of us. But her dream is in good hands, and will not die.  Her legacy is monumental and personal:  monumental because she has changed the paradigms of an entire clinical discipline, and personal because so many children have gained freedom of movement through her visionary ideas.

There are memorial sites for national and world heroes: generals, saints, warriors, athletes, writers. But what about someone like Linda, who worked largely in obscurity, unheralded, changing the lives of those with no voice, no lobby? There should be a place, somewhere hallowed, an avenue of trees perhaps--living monuments--where Linda’s life-work of saving thousands of children from the prison of immobility can be memorialized. Until we find the right place, it will remain, no less hallowed, in our hearts.

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Reply by Jannet on November 07, 2017 at 12:01 PM
Thank you for this beautiful article. It is very sad knowing about Linda's passing. As Rifton equipment dealer for almost 10 years now, it really breaks my hear to hear this news. Thank you for sharing,
Reply by Vicki on November 07, 2017 at 12:48 PM
What a lovely, thoughtful commentary on your friend. I never had the pleasure to meet her but have many children/clients who have benefited from her insights and knowledge. The therapy world will miss her.
Reply by Tanya on November 08, 2017 at 12:14 PM
On behalf of our family, I want to thank you for this beautiful tribute to my mom. It was written with so much respect and love. She was an inspiration, an innovator, a research specialist and an entrepreneur with advanced vision. Her life was devoted to serving others. Her life was devoted to giving a voice to those who could not speak. Her life was devoted to her family, and her family reached beyond the borders. She loved with every fiber of her being and it was felt by all who knew her. Her passion for life both in work and family was unmeasurable and she radiated pure love wherever she went. We will cherish these precious and heartfelt words always. The Bidabe Family
Reply by Carmen on November 09, 2017 at 8:49 AM
It was an honor to be able to write this tribute on behalf of Rifton, and I am grateful for the opportunity to personally let you know how much your mother meant to me. There is so much more I could have written about our personal encounters, but this is not the space.--Carmen
Reply by Karen on November 08, 2017 at 5:42 PM
What a beautiful article. I thank God that soon after I graduated from PT school, I had the opportunity to become a MOVE Basic Provider and later an MIT, so I could share Linda’s vision and curriculum with hundreds of young people. I agree she should have an awesome, unique memorial.
Reply by Sheron on November 08, 2017 at 6:01 PM
Thank you for your kind words about Linda. She will be missed. I was privileged to work with Linda as she developed the MOVE program and wrote the curriculum. I saw first hand her dedication to children who needed an advocate, someone who cared and had the ability to put together a plan of action. Many were skeptical at first, but she won them over when they saw the difference MOVE made in the lives of these children and later, adults also, who need assistance in learning how to sit, stand and walk. She was loving, creative, dynamic, highly intelligent. And, she was a good friend.
Reply by Kimber on November 08, 2017 at 7:54 PM
This truly captures my Aunt Linda's spirit. Thank you for painting such a loving portrait.
Reply by Bill on November 13, 2017 at 1:11 PM
Thx for sharing
Reply by Holly on November 13, 2017 at 9:28 PM
I had a chance to do a workshop with Linda many years ago. Our school bought the early products and used them over and over again. It changed my way of doing therapy with severely physically impacted children.
Reply by Sheila Wolfe on November 14, 2017 at 12:13 AM
Thank you Rifton - this is a beautiful tribute to Linda! Linda improved and expanded the way I practiced as an OT in education. She inspired me, taught me, really believed in our work and had a huge impact on me, the students and families we served and so many of my colleagues. I am forever grateful. We have lost a true visionary and someone who really did make a difference in this world. As a tribute to Linda, my colleagues and I are setting up a MOVE Family Support Fund in her name at the Warmline Family Resource Center (warmlinefrc.org) because, as Linda used to say "Step 2 - Setting Goals with Families - is the most important step - the heart and soul of our work". All contributions are welcomed as we honor Linda Bidabe.
Reply by Elaine on November 15, 2017 at 7:30 AM
I only know one of thousands of places that can boast a memorial place for Linda. Where children , who could not have done so without Linda's influence, walk on the sidewalks enjoying the sunshine and through the hallways of a school.