Frieda Zames

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Frieda Zames (October 29, 1932 - June 16, 2005) was an American disability rights activist and mathematics professor.[1] With her sister, Doris Zames Fleischer, Zames wrote The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation,[2] a historical survey that has been used as a disability rights textbook.[3]

Life and career[edit]

Zames was born in on October 29, 1932 in Brooklyn and died on June 16, 2005 in Manhattan.[3] Disabled by a childhood bout of polio, Zames was institutionalized for many years. Because of institutionalization and the school system’s automatic placement of physically disabled students in non-rigorous academic tracks, Zames was mostly self-taught, according to friends.[4]

Zames earned an undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College where she was Phi Beta Kappa.[4] Zames' mother accompanied her to college every day and carried her books.[4] Zames, then her family’s breadwinner, worked as an actuary at MetLife,[3] then went on to earn a doctorate in mathematics from New York University.[1] In 1966 Zames was hired by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark,[3] where she taught classes ranging from remedial to graduate level.[4] She retired with the title Associate Professor of Mathematics Emeritus in 2000.[3]

Zames' activism began in the 1970s, when she joined the disability rights group Disabled in Action and began to use a motorized scooter, which enabled her to travel to protests more easily.[3] In one of her first demonstrations, she joined a group of paraplegic activists in surrounding a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus during rush hour to protest its lack of wheelchair access,[3] part of a campaign which ultimately resulted in all MTA buses being fitted in wheelchair lifts beginning in 1981.[5] Once the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, Zames joined in a successful lawsuit to make the Empire State Building accessible.[3] She also participated in campaigns to make the school at which she taught, NJIT, wheelchair accessible.[4] Other work focused on curb cuts, restaurants, subways, ferries, public restrooms and public buildings.[1] Zames' activism included civil disobedience, litigation and advocacy literature to obtain full participation in public life for disabled people.[3]

According to her sister, Doris Zames Fleischer, Zames' sense of social justice included the struggles for equality for women, racial minorities, gays and other disfranchised people.[6] Zames served on the board of Disabled in Action, the New York State Independent Living Coalition, the Disabilities Network of NYC, and WBAI, a radio station.[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

The corner of First Avenue and East 4th Street in Manhattan was named Frieda Zames Way in 2009 in her honor.[7]



  1. ^ a b c Fox, Margalit (June 17, 2005). "Frieda Zames, 72, Advocate for Disabled, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  2. ^ Fleischer, Doris Zames (2003). The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-812-6.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Gibson, Alexandra (June 17, 2005). "Frieda Zames, 73, Disabled Activist Urged Accessible Transportation". New York Sun. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Guarino, Beth (August 2005). "Frieda Zames, Tireless Advocate, Dies". New York Able. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  5. ^ Moakley, Terry. "Independence Today". Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  6. ^ "Activist Frieda Zames, 1932-2005". Retrieved 18 July 2012.
  7. ^ Keller, Emily. "Street Named for Frieda Zames, Advocate for Accessibility". Retrieved 18 July 2012.