Today: Fred Fay, A disabled rights activist who helped to uplift the world.
If your limitations have made success hard for you, you will especially enjoy today’s story. Fred was born in 1944, and as a 16 year old boy in Bethesda, MD, he enjoyed shooting basketball and exercising on his trapeze. But one day while doing flips on his trapeze, he lost his grip and fell 10 feet to the ground, landing on his forehead. When his girlfriend got to the hospital to see him, she fainted at the severity of his injuries, as she saw the metal tongs imbedded in Fred’s head and the 30 pound weights used to stabilize his neck and all of the other apparatus keeping him alive.
After several days in the hospital, Fred was sent to the rehabilitation center in Warm Springs, GA created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to treat his polio. During his 5 weeks there Fred met Larry Keegan, a young man about his age. Larry was a quadriplegic yet he drove a hand controlled car, played in a band, went out socially on weekends and would soon be leaving for college. Larry got Fred to confront the fact that for the rest of his life he would be a paraplegic. Fred cried his heart out. Then Larry showed him how to make the most of his life.
When Fred got home, he organized a disabled person’s support group, the 1st of several support groups he would organize and he graduated from high school. He then enrolled at the University of Illinois, because it was one of the few wheel chair accessible universities. Despite his severe physical limitations, Fred ultimately graduated with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees and a Doctorate, all in Psychology.
IBM hired Fred and during his three years there, he became very effective in using computers. Subsequently, Fred directed rehabilitation research at Tuft’s Medical Center and he became a leader in the disability rights movement. His crowning moment and that of physically disabled people across America was the 1990 signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. No longer could the disabled just be shuttered away and discriminated against in the jobs market. No longer could public buildings be built without access for disabled people and public transportation would now be designed to be accessible to them.
But Fred never let up. 30 years ago, he was diagnosed with an inoperable spinal cyst that forced him to stay in bed 24 hours a day and to lay flat. In response, Fred helped to create a motorized, computerized bed, which included a mirror so he could see others and to see what he was doing. And with the controls he operated, he became adept at getting around in his home and yard. As an activist, Fred used a telephone headset, a personal computer and an electronic workstation to help lead other activists everywhere, many never knowing the extent of his severe limitations.
In his personal life, in 1967 Fred married Linda Martindale, another physically limited person. And the couple had a son, Derick, who today is in his early 40’s and is an Anthropology Professor at the Univ. of California Riverside. In a 2009 interview, Fred proudly stated his son was his best friend and his greatest accomplishment. The two shared their lives, including computers, music and cheering for the Boston Red Sox baseball team
Fred and Linda were divorced after 13 years of marriage and for the last 29 years, Fred and Trish Irons were a couple, until his passing on August 29th, 2011 in Concord, MA of complications from being bed ridden and other severe health problems. Fred died just before his 67th birthday. But what a remarkable life he had led. Fred had devoted himself to starting, building and working with disability organizations and to promoting civil rights and independent living opportunities for the disabled. As a top activist for 50 years, among Fred’s survivors are the many millions of people across the world whose cause he passionately and compassionately addressed.
Success Tip of the Week:
It comes from Fred. “I created my own world, to decide who I was, what I was and where I was going. It was up to me.” In other words he didn’t let his limitations or other people define who he was or the actions he would take. This is great advice for you and me.
To listen to Fred and learn more about him, please click on: “The Fred Fay Story: A Tribute, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOWFm_DV_DY , from which the Success Tip of the Week was taken. Also, “An Interview with Fred Fay, Leader in Disability Right’s Movement.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PR5KxB8ZNNY&feature=related (in which he speaks of Derick and identifies the woman who became “the love of my life.”)
In the next KazanToday:
A woman who didn’t become an actress until her mid-50’s yet became a Hollywood success.