Lex Frieden • Key Architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act
While you may not have heard of Lex Frieden, you’re probably familiar with one of the most important accomplishments of his career – the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, of which he was one of the primary architects. We connected with Lex to hear more about his story and why his experience as a disability rights advocate leads him to support a “Yes” vote on Houston’s Proposition 1.
Frieden is a long-time advocate for people with disabilities and a professor of Biomedical Informatics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
He has spent his career ensuring that people aren’t discriminated against because of a disability, and, as a Houstonian, he is speaking out in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.“I was a freshman in college when my neck was broken in a car accident. I was paralyzed instantly,” Lex explained. “I spent the next six months in hospitals, including three months at TIRR Memorial Hermann, where I learned to function from a wheelchair.
When Lex was finally discharged from the hospital, all he wanted to do was get back to college and continue his education. Unfortunately, that proved to be a big challenge: Lex had to find a new college, one that was accessible to a person in a wheelchair. When he found one and applied, his admission to the university was denied on the basis of his disability. “I was told it was university policy not to admit students who were disabled,” Lex said. “I learned that the university also denied admission to students whom they considered to be obese.”
Lex was shocked.
He explained that he grew up thinking that, “‘all men are created equal’ and believing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had effectively outlawed discrimination in America, I was shocked and dismayed. I nearly lost faith that I could achieve anything as a person with a disability,” he said.
For Lex, adjusting to life in a wheelchair was less difficult than the prejudice and discrimination he now faced.
“My encounter with the hard hand of prejudice was much more difficult to cope with than the other consequences of my broken neck,” he said. “It took me months to overcome my depression and my sense of worthlessness.”
It took time for Lex to understand what was really happening – and to decide he had to do something about it.
“In the process of healing, I realized that discrimination could occur on the basis of characteristics other than race,” he said, “My experience also taught me about the harmfulness of discrimination, the anger it can provoke, and the hopelessness it can engender.”
Lex is a shining example of what great people can accomplish when they have the chance to live without fear of discrimination – and he wants all people to have that same opportunity.
“My experience motivated me to work toward an inclusive society. Given the opportunity, I earned two college degrees, academic appointments on the faculties of two esteemed universities, and two presidential citations for my work to prevent discrimination on the basis of disability,” he said.
It’s that same drive that today makes him support a “Yes” vote in Houston: “I am compelled to support Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance by the same motives that inspired my work on the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he said. Lex wants everyone who is willing to work hard to have an opportunity to succeed – and that’s what the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is all about.
It was an honor to hear from such an accomplished Houstonian who has done so much to make our country a better place. We’re very grateful to Lex for sharing his story and for speaking out in support of equal opportunity for everyone.