Frieda Zames (October 29, 1932 - June 16, 2005) was an American disability rights activist and mathematics professor. With her sister, Doris Zames Fleischer, Zames wrote The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation, a historical survey that has been used as a disability rights textbook.
Life and career
Zames was born in on October 29, 1932 in Brooklyn and died on June 16, 2005 in Manhattan. 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.
Zames earned an undergraduate degree from Brooklyn College where she was Phi Beta Kappa. Zames' mother accompanied her to college every day and carried her books. Zames, then her family’s breadwinner, worked as an actuary at MetLife, then went on to earn a doctorate in mathematics from New York University. In 1966 Zames was hired by the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in Newark, where she taught classes ranging from remedial to graduate level. She retired with the title Associate Professor of Mathematics Emeritus in 2000.
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. 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, part of a campaign which ultimately resulted in all MTA buses being fitted in wheelchair lifts beginning in 1981. Once the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, Zames joined in a successful lawsuit to make the Empire State Building accessible. She also participated in campaigns to make the school at which she taught, NJIT, wheelchair accessible. Other work focused on curb cuts, restaurants, subways, ferries, public restrooms and public buildings. Zames' activism included civil disobedience, litigation and advocacy literature to obtain full participation in public life for disabled people.
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. 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.
Awards and honors
- Fox, Margalit (June 17, 2005). "Frieda Zames, 72, Advocate for Disabled, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Fleischer, Doris Zames (2003). The Disability Rights Movement: From Charity to Confrontation. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-812-6.
- Gibson, Alexandra (June 17, 2005). "Frieda Zames, 73, Disabled Activist Urged Accessible Transportation". New York Sun. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Guarino, Beth (August 2005). "Frieda Zames, Tireless Advocate, Dies". New York Able. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Moakley, Terry. "Independence Today". Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- "Activist Frieda Zames, 1932-2005". Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Keller, Emily. "Street Named for Frieda Zames, Advocate for Accessibility". Retrieved 18 July 2012.