HOUSTON - Houston-native Lex Frieden became paralyzed in a car accident when he was only 18 years old. He was going to college and living at home when his journey began to make not only his own life more independent, but everyone with a disability.
"We want, not only to go to jobs, but we want to engage in recreation, and we want full access to the community," says Lex.
Lex has been fighting for rights since his accident. His voice has been heard.
"In 1983, President Reagan invited me to come to Washington and work as the director of the National Council on Disability," says Lex. "We were given one task by the Congress, and that was to report on the needs of people with disabilities in the United States."
Three years later, they had a plan for a law to protect people with disabilities from discrimination.
"We wanted to model it after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. People with disabilities at that time couldn't get into a movie theater. We couldn't get up the steps to restaurants. We couldn't get into the bathrooms at most public facilities, and we felt like we had a right to be fully participating citizens," says Lex.
Not everyone agreed with the idea of making expensive changes to infrastructure.
"There was a lot of opposition to it, despite the fact that the President recommended it," says Lex.
He didn't let that slow him down. Lex and others kept advocating. He believes the timing was everything in how it all unfolded.
"So in 1986, we produced this report, the President was not available to receive it, because the Challenger space shuttle had blown up the morning that we were supposed to take it to the White House," Lex says. "And we were shuffled off down the hall to the Vice President's office, and you know, sometimes things happen the way they're supposed to happen. George Bush was interested in the subject. He said, 'Barbara and I had a child with a disability who died. We have another one of our sons who's having difficulty learning to read, and we understand what you're trying to do here, and I will, as much as I can, help you get this done.' And then of course, as history then folded, two years later, he was elected president. And that was one of the first things he wanted to carry out in his agenda, which he did."
In 1990, Lex joined 3,000 others, when then-President George H.W. Bush signed into law, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"With today's signing of the landmark American for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass their once closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom," said the now late President. "At the time, it was the largest signing ceremony in the history of the United States. It was marvelous," exclaims Lex.
Lex now works at TIRR Memorial Hermann as their Director of the ADA Center and a professor at UTHealth. He says Houston is one of the most accessible cities in the world!
"That's largely a result of our culture. People in Houston are inclusive and that includes people with disabilities," states Lex. "We have a 100% accessible public transit system. We're in the process of rebuilding almost 900 bus stops to make them fully accessible. We have parks and recreation in our community that are intended to be accessible to people who have disabilities, and we're doing more in that area as well."
As for where we can improve? Lex says many sidewalks in Houston need work, and he's trying to raise awareness about that. Also, more than 60 million people have a disability and that's expected to soon go up to 76-million with aging baby boomers. Lex says we need more dedicated parking spaces to accommodate that growing number.
Thanks to HTV and Memorial Hermann for helping provide videos to support this on-air story. For more information on ADA, click here. You can also see more work the TIRR Memorial Hermann is doing by visiting their website.