Lex Frieden, a United Spinal Association board member who played an integral role in the development, passage and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, participated in a social justice panel discussion at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, as part of the Civil Rights Summit that took place April 8-10.
Frieden talked about the linkage of the ADA with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, why disability rights are civil rights and how the discrimination faced by people with disabilities is similar to that faced by people of color, women and LGBT individuals. He also emphasized how important community integration is to the over 50 million people with disabilities living in the U.S. today.
“No one should have their ambitions, dreams or opportunities stifled by discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights legislation have established a fundamental framework for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability, but we have yet to experience the full impact of those provisions. The dreams and ambitions of many people with disabilities have yet to be realized. Significant disparities in housing, transportation, employment and community living by people with disabilities are evidence of the need for us to continue our fight for civil rights and equal opportunity,” says Frieden.
The panel discussion immediately followed the keynote speech by President Barack Obama. Other panel participants included former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, humanitarian Maria Shriver, athlete and philanthropist David Robinson, and businessman Steve Stoute.
Under immense national pressure from disability rights advocates to include disability rights as part of the Civil Rights Summit celebrating the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library and main organizer of the summit personally reached out to Frieden and invited him to participate on the social justice panel as a civil and disability rights activist.
Frieden has been involved in the disability community for 45 years. He is one of America’s pre-eminent disability activists and leaders of the independent living movement. He is professor of biomedical informatics and rehabilitation at the University of Texas at Houston, and is a past chairman of the National Council on Disability, a presidentially-appointed body. He was the 1998 winner of the Henry B. Betts Award for outstanding achievement in disability rights. He is also director of the independent living research utilization program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas.