Lex Frieden is one of America’s pre-eminent disability activists and leaders of the independent living movement. He is Professor of Health Informatics and of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He is also Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine. From 2002 to 2006, he served as Chairman of the National Council on Disability (NCD), a presidentially appointed body. He was the 1998 winner of the prestigious Henry B. Betts Award for outstanding achievement in disability rights. In 1983, he was recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Americans.
As Senior Vice President of TIRR/Memorial-Hermann Hospital (formerly Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research) in Houston, Frieden directs the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at TIRR.
Frieden was one of the major figures behind the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. In his capacity of Executive Director of NCD in the mid-1980s, reporting to presidentially appointed Council members, notably including Vice Chairman Justin Dart, Frieden oversaw the work of Robert Burgdorf in writing the first drafts of what was to become the ADA. The Council issued a major report, Toward Independence, to further the effort along. The ADA became law on July 26, 1990.
Frieden’s service in the 1970s included membership on a task force empaneled by Olin E. (“Tiger”) Teague (1910–1981), U.S. Congressman from Texas, to study what was and was not being done in disability-related research across the entire swath of the U.S. Government. That panel’s work led, in 1978, to creation of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), a unit of the US Department of Education.
Lex Frieden was born in Alva, Oklahoma, a town in northwestern Oklahoma. In 1967, he began studying electrical engineering at Oklahoma State University. It was as a freshman that he sustained a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident. As part of his rehabilitation from that injury, he went to TIRR in Houston, where he met Dr. William A. Spencer, the great rehabilitation medicine visionary. Dr. Spencer became Lex’s mentor. Among many other things, Spencer brought Lex onto the Teague-appointed research panel that Spencer chaired.
Frieden is a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Tulsa and also a graduate of the University of Houston. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in law (LL.D.) by the National University of Ireland.
Currently, Frieden is Chairman of the Board of United Spinal Association.
Professor Frieden makes a brief statement concerning the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act in this video: “Americans with Disabilities Act turns 20.”