SCI Superstar: Lex Frieden


When it comes to one of the brightest SCI Superstars we could profile, you can’t get more significant or note-worthy – heck this guy will have a chapter on him in history books one day – than Lex Frieden.

One of the architects of the ADA and a big time policy-maker, Lex Frieden is dedicated to helping people with SCI and other disabilities live as independently as possible. A college professor, husband and a dog-lover too, read on to learn about one of the most important figures in American disability history.

Why he’s fearless?

When Lex Frieden was a freshmen in college at Oklahoma State University, he sustained a C4-5 spinal cord injury in a car accident. The year was 1967 – the US was sending men to the moon, the world seemed to be “modernizing,” yet Lex Frieden meanwhile was having to focus on something so basic as life in a wheelchair, and the landscape wasn’t too friendly either.

The whole term of “living independently” hadn’t even been coined yet, but Lex Frieden had a different idea about things. He was a young man desperate for his independence, and after meeting a visionary doctor while in rehab at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston who shared the same notion – Dr. William A. Spencer – Lex Frieden knew he wanted to dedicate his life to the psychology of rehab medicine.

But going “back” to school wasn’t that easy. He was at first denied admission at Oral Roberts University of Oklahoma because he used a chair, and was finally accepted at the University of Tulsa. The school put all of his classes in one building so he could attend his classes, and Lex Frieden graduated with a BA in Psychology in 3 years, then went on to receive his masters in Rehab Medicine from the University of Houston.

With his degrees and desire to see a change in hand, Lex Frieden made his first appearance before Congress at age 25 as a member of a Congressional Task force on Science, Technology and Disability, speaking on what was “not” being done re: disability research by the US government. That very panel ended up becoming the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), a unit of the US Department of Education, in 1978.

And throughout the ’80s, Lex Frieden was theĀ  Executive Director of the National Council on Disability, a council the reported to the US president, and it was in this tenure where he helped write the first drafts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, an act we all know was finally passed in 1990. He was also Chair of the NCID again when President George W. Bush was in office from 2002 – 2008. Lex Frieden is a born and bred policy maker.

But changing young minds is just as important to Lex Frieden. He’s also a Professor of Health Informatics and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Houston and an adjunct Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College.

It’s no secret his heart lies on this campus – attending and then working here till this day. Lex Frieden also met his wife Joyce when he was studying his masters at the University of Houston, with the two tying the knot in ’77. Joyce uses a powerchair too. She had encephalomeningiomyelitis when she was a single mom, a virus that paralyzed her from the chest down.

What’s next?

And nowdays Lex Frieden is busy working as the Director of the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital, the very program he attended when he was newly injured. He was also recently President of Rehabilitation International, a federation of 200 national and international organizations in 90 countries dedicated to providing adequate rehab medicine. Can you say full circle? At 64, Lex Frieden is not slowing down in the least.

Lex Frieden’s family life is also pretty cool – he has a “blood-brother,” his best friend Mac, who’s been his PCA since the ’70s. Mac is Vietnam vet who sustained a brain injury. Lex Frieden met him when they were both in rehab, and offered him the job, taking the time to train him. Lex Frieden and Joyce also are very close to their grandson, who they helped raise in his teens.

There’s no doubt Lex Frieden’s legacy has made every one of our lives better. He’s a fighter true and true who refused to accept that status-quo. Thank you Lex Frieden Frieden for showing us what is possible, and how one person can make all the difference, as long as he stays true to his fight.

How has Lex Frieden inspired you?

Visit his website

Watch the videos!

Lex Frieden speaks on why being able to “help ourselves” is vital to personal growth

Lex Frieden speaks about the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Lex Frieden answers the question, “What kind of care do PWD want?” to the Amerigroup National Advisory Board

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