Lex Frieden

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Lex Frieden
Lex Frieden 450.jpg
BornMarch 5, 1949
ResidenceHouston, Texas
Alma materUniversity of Tulsa
University of Houston
National University of Ireland, Galway
WebsiteLex Frieden Home

Lex Frieden (born March 5, 1949)[1] is an American educator, researcher, disability policy expert and disability rights activist. Frieden has been called "a chief architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act."[2][3] He is also regarded as a founder and leader of the independent living movement by people with disabilities in the U.S.[4][5]


Lex Frieden was born in Alva, Oklahoma, a rural community in northwestern Oklahoma. He graduated from Alva Senior High School in 1967 and began studying electrical engineering at Oklahoma State University.[6] It was as a freshman that he sustained a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident.[7] As part of his rehabilitation from that injury, he went to TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, where he met Dr. William A. Spencer, the rehabilitation medicine visionary.[8] Dr. Spencer became Lex's mentor.[9]

Public service[edit]

Frieden's service in the 1970s included membership on a Congressional task force on science, technology and disability empaneled by Olin E. Teague (1910–1981), U.S. Congressman from Texas. The panel's mission was to study what was and was not being done in disability-related research across the entire swath of the U.S. Government. That panel's work led, in 1978, to creation of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), a unit of the US Department of Education.[10]

Frieden at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2014

Frieden was one of the major figures behind the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As Executive Director of the National Council on Disability (NCD) in the mid-1980s, reporting to presidentially appointed Council members notably including Vice Chairman Justin Dart, Jr., Frieden oversaw the work of Robert Burgdorf in writing the first drafts of what was to become the ADA. The Council issued two major reports, Toward Independence and On the Threshold of Independence, to further the effort along. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.[11] Other significant legislation inspired by the Council while Frieden was director included the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) and legislation to make national parks and recreation areas accessible to people with disabilities.

After leaving NCD in 1988, Frieden was appointed by Congressman Major R. Owens, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Select Education, to be coordinator of the newly formed, Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities. The role of the task force was to gather information on the extent and nature of disability discrimination in America. Justin Dart, Jr. was named chairman of the group, and working together as they had for the past five years at NCD, they produced several reports and papers which congressional committees used in the process of considering and refining the ADA prior to passage.[12]

President George W. Bush appointed Frieden Chairman of the NCD and the Senate confirmed his appointment on July 26, 2002, the anniversary of the signing of the ADA. Frieden’s swearing in ceremony was conducted in the Oval Office by the President and by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.[13] Under Frieden's leadership, the Council produced a report, Righting the ADA, that made recommendations leading to enactment of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, and they proposed a UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

Other Council priorities during Frieden's tenure as NCD chair centered on livable communities, adaptive technology and community-based services and supports for long-term care. His personal experience assisting with disaster response and recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita motivated Council recommendations that resulted in passage of legislation to improve emergency preparedness and response for people with disabilities in disasters.

Academic appointments[edit]

Frieden is Professor of Health Informatics and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He is also Professor (Adjunct) of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine. Frieden directs the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston (The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research). In 2010, the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor for the University of Texas System appointed him Chancellors Health Fellow on Disability.[14]


Frieden is an Alumnus of the University of Tulsa. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University in 1979, and in 2004, the Lex Frieden Presidential Scholarship was established by the University in his honor. He is also a graduate of the University of Houston. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in law (LL.D.) by the National University of Ireland, Galway.[15]


In 1983, Frieden was recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans.[16] He was the 1998 winner of the Henry B. Betts Award for outstanding achievement in disability rights.[17] In 2011, the Texas Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities named its annual employment awards program after Frieden for his advocacy work regarding the employment of people with disabilities around the world.[18] He also won the 2013 Henry Viscardi Achievement Awards. Frieden was awarded the prestigious Fries Prize for Human Improvement by the CDC Foundation in 2017.[19]

Community service[edit]

Frieden is a member and former chairperson of the Board of United Spinal Association. He serves on the board of the Sam Houston Area Council Boy Scouts of America. In 2016, Frieden was appointed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to the board of METRO, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas.[20]

Personal papers and historical archives[edit]

Frieden's extensive collection of ADA artifacts and documents is held by the US National Archives and Records Administration at the George Bush Presidential Library at College Station, Texas. The collection chronicles the disability and independent living movements by people with disabilities during the last half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century..[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "3/5/2012 - Lex Frieden's Birthday". www.ilusa.com. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
  2. ^ Kim Archer (February 20, 1992). "Alva Native Now Advocate for Disabled". Tulsa World. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  3. ^ Hopper, Leigh (October 25, 1998). "EXTRA-ORDINARY / Normal life a noble badge for paralyzed advocate for disabled". Houston Chronicle. pp. Section A, page 1. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
  4. ^ Harasim, Paul (September 3, 1993). "Disabling Views on the Disabled". Houston Post. pp. Local Section, Page A29, Final Edition. Retrieved 2012-12-05.
  5. ^ Roger Widmeyer (November 15, 1998). "Lex Frieden: "Champion for People with Disabilities"". Texas Medical Center News. 20 (21). Archived from the original on 23 June 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  6. ^ Edward D Berkowitz (1987). Disabled policy: America's programs for the handicapped. Cambridge University Press. p. 196.
  7. ^ William M. Hendryx (January 20, 2004). "Uncommon Courage". Family Circle: 43–47. Archived from the original on December 7, 2013.
  8. ^ "Our History - TIRR Memorial Hermann". Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  9. ^ Richard Verville (2009). War, Politics, and Philanthropy: The History of Rehabilitation Medicine. University Press of America. p. 197.
  10. ^ Panel on Research Programs to Aid the Handicapped, United States. Congress. House. Committee on Science and Technology (1978). "Report of the Panel on Research Programs to Aid the Handicapped to the Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives, Ninety-fifth Congress, second session". U.S. Government Printing Office.
  11. ^ Jonathan M. Young (1997). "EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY:The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act". U.S. National Council on Disability. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  12. ^ United States Congress House Committee on Education and Labor (1990). Legislative history of Public Law 101-336, the Americans with Disabilities Act. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 300.
  13. ^ George Walker Bush, United States. Office of the Federal Register (2005). Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: George W. Bush: bk. 2. July 1 to December 31, 2002: United States. President (2001-2009 : Bush). Volume 4 of George W. Bush. U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 2234.
  14. ^ "New UT Chancellor's Health Fellow to tackle disability issues". News Release: Media Relations, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. December 2, 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  15. ^ "U.S. Disability Rights Leader Awarded Honorary Doctorate from Ireland". Disability World (24). June–August 2004. Archived from the original on 2 December 2010. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  16. ^ List of Ten Outstanding Young Americans From Wikipedia
  17. ^ "Work for disabled cited". Houston Chronicle. October 7, 1998. pp. Section A, Page 18. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  18. ^ "Disability History Factoid: Professor Lex Frieden". Office of the Governor - Rick Perry. October 26, 2011. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Lex Frieden Receives 2017 Fries Prize for Improving Health". CDC Foundation. November 6, 2017. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  20. ^ "Mayor Turner Makes More Changes At METRO". City of Houston. March 18, 2016. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  21. ^ George Bush Presidential Library (2016). "Lex Frieden Collection, 1958-2013, bulk 1975–1991:Records on Disability Rights" (PDF). U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 2 February 2018.

External links[edit]