Fred Fay

September 17, 2018 Sue Rorke

Fred Fay became a role model and activist after he fell from a trapeze at the age of 16 and injured his spinal cord. He worked hard to become independent, from driving himself around (including getting from his wheelchair to the car and then stowing the chair), to attending the University of Illinois. He was unstoppable.

When President Johnson invited Fred to the Rose Garden for the signing of the the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, his wheelchair had to be bumped up the steps – the White House was not accessible.

Here is a subset of his many accomplishments:

  • In 1963, Fred and his mother (a formidable advocate herself) founded the Washington Architectural Barriers Project, which led the drive to make the D.C. subway system accessible to all.
  • His legislative activism was instrumental in winning passage of the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 .
  • He was instrumental in passing of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • In 1974, he co-founded the Boston Center for Independent Living.
  • For 3 years starting in 1977, he was Director of Research and Training, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Tufts University-New England Medical Center.
  • He co-founded the Massachusetts Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, and the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.
  • In 1978 at the the age of 33, he received a Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award for his contributions to “Human Improvement”
  • He launched the Justice for All forum.
  • He was a pioneer in the development of “Assistive Technology,” particularly in the use of computers to empower people with spinal cord injury and other disabilities.
  • In 1998, he won the Henry B. Betts Award for “flat-out advocacy”.

Read Fred Pelka’s extensive interviews with Fred Fay from 2001 at U.C. Berkeley: Interviews with Fred Fay . Click on the topics on the left side of the website.

Fred starred in several videos to advocate for independent living. And also included below is a trailer from a PBS documentary “Lives Worth Living” from 2011.

Fred passed away at the age of 67 on August 20, 2011. After Fred’s death, Senator Tom Harkin honored Fred in this attached letter: tribute-from-harkin. Janet Beyer also praised Fred in this newspaper article: Concord Patch .