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Remembering Pioneering Activist Fred Fay

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aug. 24, 2011

Washington, DC – The National Council on Disability (NCD) – an independent federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and other federal agencies on the policies and programs affecting the lives of Americans with disabilities honors the life and legacy of pioneering disability advocate Fred Fay who passed away August 20, 2011 in Concord, MA.

Frederick Allan Fay, Ph.D., was born on September 12, 1944, and raised in Washington, DC.  At age 16, Fay sustained a spinal cord injury, and started using a manual wheelchair.  At 17, Fay began his disability advocacy career by co-founding “Opening Doors,” a counseling and information center with his mother.

Fay attended the University of Illinois, one of the first wheelchair-accessible universities in the United States. In 1974, he founded the Boston Center for Independent Living and became the first President of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities – an organization created, governed, and administered by individuals with disabilities which was rare at the time.

For many years, Fay worked at the Tufts New England Medical Center, until syringomyelia made it impossible for him to sit upright. For the past quarter century, Fay continued working from his home in Concord, Massachusetts. In the early years, he used a headset to speak and listen on the phone. Later, Fay had a personal computer mounted on a stand near his motorized bed and an electronic workstation suspended over it.  It was from there Fay launched Justice for All (JFA), the groundbreaking online forum that compiled and distributed disability rights information to his wide network of friends, activists and allies across the nation and worldwide.

In 1997, Fay was awarded the Henry B. Betts Award for outstanding achievement in civil rights for Americans with disabilities and his “flat-out advocacy” over several decades including his role in the development of JFA, which was instrumental in the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

“Fred was one of the great early pioneers in disability advocacy. The depth and breadth of his knowledge and commitment was surpassed only by the life he lived and the legacy he leaves behind,” said Jonathan Young, Chairman of the National Council on Disability. “It’s hard to fully appreciate the contributions of our pioneers because we have the benefit of living in the worlds they created. For most of his life, Fred worked remotely from home which meant few got to meet him in person. But Fred’s work helped transform our nation from coast to coast. So much of what disability advocates do today is a direct result of the trails people like Fred Fay blazed for us.”

A memorial service in celebration of Fred’s life will be held the week of September 12. “A Life Worth Living” a documentary about Fred’s life and his role in the disability rights movement is scheduled to air on PBS October 27.

An official website of the National Council on Disability