Man worked closely with President George H.W. Bush to pass the ADA

The man who worked closely with President George H.W. Bush to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act is still doing amazing work here in Houston. 

The professor became good friends with the president.

“I had the opportunity to know him very well,” says UTHealth BioMedical Informatics Professor Lex Frieden. He not only got to know President George H.W. Bush, he did life-changing work with him.

”In 1986 we presented a report to Vice President Bush saying there should be a law protecting people with disabilities from discrimination,” Professor Frieden explains.  The VP of the United States told Frieden "I support you, but I’m just the Vice President". Two years later, that changed. He was elected president. It's been 28 years since President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibiting discrimination against the disabled.

Frieden, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a car wreck when he was 18, helped write the bill because he was all too familiar with being discriminated against.  “I applied to go to a major university and they told me I wasn't eligible because I used a wheelchair,” he says. 

“Before the ADA was passed, people with disabilities often had to stay at home. Many were segregated in institutions. There were no protections in employment,” says Dustin Rynders, Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Texas.  Rynders says without Professor Frieden, there would be no ADA. ”He was one of the architects of the Americans with Disabilities Act." 

Before the act was signed into law in 1990, wheelchair accessible ramps, for instance, pretty much didn't exist.  Now they're so common we hardly even recognize them. 

“You don't see the ramps now, because they're built into the design. I mean, you just look at the parking spots and the curb ramps and the captioning on television.  It’s profound,” says Frieden.

Frieden calls President Bush warm and kind.  He points out a time after dining with the Bush's at a cafe and the president invited him over.  “I was sitting next to Mrs. Bush. I said 'I've seen pictures of your home and it doesn't appear to be wheelchair accessible.' She said 'George built a ramp this morning.'” 

The president and the professor are pioneers whose work decades ago is still making such a difference.