Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive October 2015 Show 1543 Lex Frieden: Chief Architect of ADA

Lex Frieden: Chief Architect of ADA

Most individuals with disabilities would rather be responsible for their own lives than be taken care of because they’re disabled.
Lex Frieden: Chief Architect of ADA

Lex Frieden: Chief Architect of ADA

For more information visit these links:

Lex Frieden

Americans with Disabilities Act

Show Details

Show 1543: Lex Frieden: Chief Architect of ADA
Air Date: October 25, 2015



Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Born in Alva, Oklahoma, in 1949, Lex Frieden was a freshman at Oklahoma State University majoring in electrical engineering when an automobile accident left him paralyzed. Times were different in the late 1960s and what he found was barrier after barrier in trying to live his life. So this Oklahoman took a stand while sitting in a wheelchair as chronicled in this CBS report from 1978.

Lex Frieden: While in some respects it might be easier to be taken care of rather than be responsible for your own life, in most respects I think handicapped people would prefer to have that responsibility and you know the benefits of that justify the effort that’s required to put up with the day-to-day routine kind of hassles that we all have in our life.

Rob: In the ensuing years, Frieden began working with others to help those with disabilities win the smallest of battles.

Female Voice: Blind people gather to protest Federal Aviation Administration rules that say their canes must be taken from them at take-off and landing, rules that only one airline is observing.

Frieden: But the message they get today is clear. We will set the pace, and we’ll set the standards for our lives, not the FAA, not the federal government nor United. We are American citizens, and we shall be free.

Female Voice: The freedom to carry a cane on board a plane costs the society nothing, but much of what other disabled citizens want could cost billions.

Rob: But conscience began to win out over cost. Here Frieden is testifying before Congress.

Frieden: Nearly 20 years ago, I broke my neck in an automobile accident while I was a freshman in college. Less than a year after that I applied for admission to a major university in the Southwest, and my admission application was denied strictly on the basis of the fact that I was disabled. I was concerned by that. I spoke to the university administrators, and I was told that that was university policy. I inquired from others about this policy and was told that I had no protection under the law, that in fact this discrimination was legal, and I considered it at the time to be legal assault. I must say that I was somewhat dismayed by that, as you might imagine. I was demoralized and certainly disillusioned about the protections which we as Americans expect to have in this great nation.

Rob: Frieden went on to pen a federal report and was to present it to President Reagan on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986 – the same day as the launch and explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. But out of that tragedy came the good fortune of meeting with then Vice President George Bush.

Frieden: He said, “You have to remember, I’m just the vice president. I can’t do much to help you now. If in the future I ever have the opportunity to help you more, I will.”

Rob: And he did.

President George Bush: Disabled Americans must become full partners in America’s opportunity society.

Rob: And after two years of debate and hearings the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law.

Bush: And now I sign legislation which takes a sledge hammer to another wall, one which has [applause], one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse but not grasp. And once again we rejoice as this barrier falls proclaiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America.


Rob: And this small town boy from Alva, Oklahoma, became known as the chief architect of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Rob McClendon: After the ADA’s passage, one by one, schools, stores, stadiums, government buildings and businesses became accessible to people with all sorts of disabilities. And while highly regarded for improving so many lives, the Americans with Disabilities Act has struggled in one key area and that is in the workplace, which is our focus when we return.