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In Memory of Fred Fay

September 12, 1944 - August 20, 2011

Celebrating the Life of Fred Fay

When Pete's cousin Fred was 17, he launched his disability advocacy career. Today Fred is widely recognized as one of the most significant leaders in the disability rights and independent living movements in the nation.

Fred FayAs you read this story and follow the links, you can hear Fred tell his story.

As a teenager, Fred was an accomplished gymnast. At age 16, he fell from a trapeze and landed on his head, suffering a severe spinal cord injury. Despite his injuries, Fred was determined to live a full life. He wanted to show that a person with quadriplegia could be active, own an apartment, drive a car, get married, have children, and earn a Ph.D. In the video links below, you'll see and hear Fred tell his story.

Fred accomplished his dreams, while also working to secure unprecedented access to civil rights for Americans with disabilities.

As a disability policy adviser to the Administration and Congress, Fred was instrumental in winning passage of Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, the ADA of 1990, and the IDEA of 1997.

When President Johnson invited Fred to the Rose Garden for the signing of the the Urban Mass Transportation Act 1964, his wheelchair had to be bumped up the steps - the White House was not accessible.

"Lobbying to get access for the disabled became his life's work, achieving it has become his life's triumph."

At home in Washington, DC, Fred found "every single curb was like a Berlin Wall telling me that I was not welcome to travel farther than a block." When Fred read about the new DC subway system to be built he thought "Why don't they build it so that everybody can ride it?..."

Fred's life proves that one man can change the world, even though he has to lie flat on his back just to stay alive.

Lives Worth Living - Premieres on PBS October 27, 2011

videoLives Worth Living, a film about Fred's life, follows one man's struggle to survive after a spinal cord injury and his role in the earliest days of the Disability Rights Movement. This film is the first television history of their decades-long struggle for equal rights.

In this trailer, Fred as he tells you about his life after a devastating spinal cord injury, and his alliance with a small group of dedicated activists who formed the Disability Rights Movement and helped drive the nation towards equal rights.

Find PBS broadcast times in your area. Exact broadcast times and dates for some regions are available (and are being updated every day) by clicking on this link:

Co-founded with his mother "Opening Doors," a counseling and information center.

Together they established the Washington Architectural Barriers Project which led the way to make the DC subway system accessible to all.

Received his doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Illinois.

Principal founder of the Boston Center for Independent Living. Senior research associate for Comprehensive Needs Survey, studies that demonstrated the need for independent living initiatives nationwide.

Organized the first meeting of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities which led to the founding of state grassroots cross-disability organizations nationwide.

Director of Research and Training, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Tufts University-New England Medical Center.

Established the Justice For All Forum for enhancing grassroots advocacy, which has grown to become the highly-relied upon source of national disability news and action alerts. In 2001 AAPD formally became the host for JFAA.

Received the Henry B. Betts Award for outstanding achievement in civil rights for Americans with disabilities

Received the American Association of People with Disabilities Justice for All Award.

An Incomparable Tinkerer

Fred Fay with Elmer Bartels, Alison GilkeyFred "assumes no barriers in how innovative he can be in designing the technology in his environment." - Judy Brewer, Director of the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Fred was a pioneer in the development of assistive technology and has been instrumental in the development of adaptive computer technology. For millions of people with disabilities, Fred's innovations have provided access to the world around them.

UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library has recorded the stories of individuals who have made significant contributions to disability rights and the independent living movement. Read more about Fred here...

Fred Fay: Community Organizer and Advocate for Equal Access and Equal Rights

Defining Ourselves - Whose Movie Is This?

Viewers might enjoy an earlier 2006 video of Fred, filmed by Fred himself, on our website at:


After we published the original newsletter on December 3, 2010, Fred and his family received hundreds of emails from our Wrightslaw friends. His partner Trish Irons printed each email and read them to him.

Pam and I visited Fred in August 2011. He talked about how meaningful these emails were to him. He said one email was from a church in Indiana where more than 1,800 parishioners were praying for his recovery. Your emails had a profound, positive effect on Fred.

Thank you.

He had a dramatic recovery in December 2010 that continued until his decline several months ago. Fred passed away on August 20, 2011.

Today, we see his smile.

More About Fred Fay

Narberth's Bruce Fay Remembers his Brother's Amazing Life. If the average teenage boy fell from a trapeze and became paralyzed, he would consider his life over. But Fred Fay was no average teenage boy. Not easily discouraged, he soon became a tireless and effective advocate for the disabled. (Mainline Media News, 03/10/12)

Remembering Pioneer Activist Fred Fay from the National Council on Disability. (Newsroom 2011)

Profiles in Courage: Fred Fay -from the Independent Living Services of Northern California (ILSNC). "Disability is equal opportunity," Fred Fay told the Boston Globe in 1998. "Anyone can qualify at any moment."

Originally Created: 12/03/10
Last Revised: 03/11/13

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