Houston Post
FRIDAY  09/03/93
Local Section, Page A29, Final Edition


By Paul Harasim

WE'RE JUST NOT thinking. If we were, change would come faster.

Once we come to fully understand that the only thing that separates us from a wheelchair is a split-second, grinding collision on Main Street or a swimming accident or a fall from a ladder, then a nation built for "normal" people over the last 200 years will truly come to realize that both the physical and mental obstacles created for the disabled must come down NOW.

If you think about it, what happened to Pam Mackie the other day at the Muncipal Courts building should have never happened. Like many who use wheelchairs, she drives a van equipped with a lift. That means the usual handicapped parking space isn't big enough - a space the size of 1 1/2 spaces is needed. To ensure that she wouldn't get boxed in after helping a friend at the Municipal Courts building, she took up two spaces.

That got her ticketed.

It's the kind of frequent aggravation - Mackie says it makes some disabled people want to give up - that reminds Lex Frieden , one of the most effective civil rights activists in America, just how much more work there is to do.

We have met for lunch at the Texas Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, and Frieden , the chief architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, lets his enchiladas get cold.

It is quickly apparent the 43-year-old Frieden appreciates food for thought far more than for the belly. He's trim, sitting in a wheelchair as a result of an auto accident during his freshman year at college.

A senior vice president of TIRR who worked in Washington, D.C., four years conceiving the ADA legislation, he was awarded a Presidential Citation by George Bush for his work.

For a man whose work will radically change America - the effects of ADA are only now beginning to be felt across the country - Frieden is remarkably modest.

"The drive for what has been done and what needs to be done comes from millions," he says.
And yet when you talk with government leaders on either the national or local level, he's credited as being the driving force behind the disability rights movement.

In March, Hillary Rodham Clinton had him address leaders of the Western Hemisphere on how to bring those with disabilities into the mainstream, instead of shunting them into dead-end jobs. It was Frieden who got Mayor Bob Lanier to create the city's first commission for the disabled as well as the first city program to streamline mainstreaming.

Frieden 's intellect and ability to speak off the cuff remind you of newsman Ted Koppel. The transplant from Oklahoma will talk forever about the need for more contact between the able-bodied and those with disabilities.

"We have goals, too," he says. "Once people see that, the 'us and them' mentality disappears." And then it becomes easier to understand why there's a need, say, for some wider handicapped parking spaces (now mandated by ADA).

As Frieden says, there's no question that attitudes about the disabled have evolved for the better. Otherwise, the ADA, which is supposed to guarantee equal treatment and access for those with disabilities, could not have passed Congress in 1990.

But we've got a long way to go.

As renowned as he has become, Frieden realizes how far too many still view someone in a wheelchair. When he was sitting recently at a bus stop with a cup of water in his hand, people threw change his way. "I made a dollar," he says.


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