On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. During the last 25 years, the ADA has brought about historic change in the United States resulting in more accessibility and higher quality of life for millions of Americans with disabilities.
“For people with disabilities, it’s our emancipation act,” says Lex Frieden, a chief architect of the ADA and currently the director, Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at TIRR Memorial Hermann and professor, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) at UTHealth. “Before the ADA someone could look you in the eye and deny you a job or deny you entrance to college simply because you were in a wheelchair and it was perfectly legal to do so.”
Frieden was a freshman in college in 1967 when his neck was broken during a car accident. Following rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Frieden tried to go back to college but was denied admission. He was told the school didn’t accept students with disabilities. Frieden eventually completed his education at the University of Tulsa.
The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that assures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.
TIRR Memorial Hermann has been providing rehabilitation services for individuals with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, strokes, amputation and neuromuscular disorders since 1959. Recently named the #2 rehabilitation hospital in the country by U.S. News & World Report, TIRR Memorial Hermann works to inspire hope in people whose lives have been significantly altered by an illness or injury.
“At TIRR Memorial Hermann we see first-hand the challenges and struggles many of our patients and their families face as they try to learn to live with a disability,” says Carl Josehart, Sr. Vice President and CEO, TIRR Memorial Hermann. “It’s hard to imagine a time when a person couldn’t go to a theater or a restaurant simply because they were in a wheelchair. But before the ADA, that was the reality.”
At just 6-years-old, George Powers was struck by lightning and lost both of his arms. He’s gone on to attend college and law school. Powers is part of the Southwest ADA Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann. The Southwest ADA Center is part of the ADA National Network to promote voluntary compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“When I applied to colleges and later law schools, I worried about my test scores and grades being good enough for admission,” says Powers. “I never had to worry about my disability being a factor for admission thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.”