Local professor behind ADA speaks about working with President Bush

HOUSTON – Every day we walk up and down ramps and pass handicap parking spaces. Most people understand why they're there, but may not realize a professor from UT Health in the Texas Medical Center is the reason behind them.

Lex Frieden, professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics, said before the 1990s people with a disability were not given fair and equal opportunities to enter buildings, gain employment or participate in society the same way other people do.

"Generally speaking," Frieden said, "We weren't regarded as people who had knowledge and skills and abilities."

Frieden is considered the architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, and worked closely with President George H.W. Bush to make it a reality. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against all people with physical or intellectual disabilities.

Bush signed it into law in 1990 and Frieden believes it will go down as one of his greatest accomplishments.

VIDEO: How the ADA helped Bush in the end

"As late as 18 months ago when I met him, he was using a wheelchair at the time, he was very proud of the efforts that he had made and thought at that time of everything he had done perhaps, perhaps the ADA was the most lasting aspect of his legacy," Frieden said. "I think it's a lasting memory, the ADA and the profound change that we've made in the way we look at people with disabilities  and treat people with disabilities will be remembered longer than any of those other things. I think President Bush changed the landscape of America in a way that perhaps only presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln have done."

Late in Bush's life, the ADA benefited him while he was in a wheelchair and accompanied by Sully, his service dog.

In Washington Tuesday, the service dog was accompanied by other individuals who've benefited from the ADA.

Frieden is still in Houston and said he plans to attend the funeral service.

He says the ADA is not perfect yet. Some of his future plans include working with Metro to expand handicap-accessible buses across Houston. However, with every bit of progress comes new frustrations. For example, he references how sidewalks leading to the bus stops are often not handicap-accessible. Nonetheless, he promises to continue improving the lives of people with disabilities, he said it's because of Bush that there's a law on his side to help him keep fighting.