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UTHealth’s Lex Frieden receives 2017 Fries Prize for improving health


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By Amy Tolchinsky | November 07, 2017

Lex Frieden, MA, LLD, a professor of biomedical informatics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has received the 2017 Fries Prize for Improving Health for being an architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and a catalyst in the worldwide disability rights and independent living movements.

Frieden has dedicated his career to improving the health and safety of Americans with disabilities. He is regarded for his pioneering work in independent living by people with disabilities and for his policy research and advocacy in the area of community-based, long-term services and supports.

“Lex Frieden is one of 53 million people (in the United States) living with disabilities. (There are an estimated) 76 million baby boomers, and countless other people in the United States and around the world, whose health status and well-being, quality of life and opportunities for full participation in society are better because of the ADA,” said Lennard Davis, PhD, distinguished professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, who nominated Frieden for the Fries Prize.

The ADA has made a profound difference in the lives of those who have disabilities by providing better access to buildings, transportation and employment, and creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities to work, play and contribute in their communities. Before the ADA was signed, virtually no public transportation was available to people with mobility impairments. In addition, there was a lack of accessibility in public buildings, including courthouses, city halls and libraries, public venues like parks and theaters, educational facilities, and many businesses, shops and restaurants. Previously, even public toilets could not be accessed by people using walkers, scooters or wheelchairs.

“Dr. Frieden has made it his life mission to improve the quality of life for so many and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude,” said Judith Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. “His advocacy, research and leadership have contributed to a better world, and we are thrilled to award him the Fries Prize for Improving Health for his tremendous impact on society.”

Frieden has spent decades fighting for equal opportunity and civil rights for people with disabilities. In 1967, as a freshman in college, Frieden sustained a spinal cord injury and became quadriplegic. Since then, he has helped organize numerous disability advocacy groups. He currently directs the Southwest ADA Center and the Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU) program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Research Center. ILRU is a research, training and technical assistance program on independent living for people with disabilities and older adults.

Frieden was appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 26, 2002, as chairperson of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency located in Washington, D.C. The Council is charged with making recommendations on disability policy issues to the President and Congress. His term ended in August, 2006. He was executive director of the Council from 1984 through 1988 when the ADA was incubated.

Frieden served an eight-year term as a member of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Standard Rules for Disability. He is past president of Rehabilitation International, a federation of 200 national and international organizations and agencies in 90 countries working for the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities and their families within society, and for the rehabilitation of people with disabilities.

A renowned author and lecturer, he has published more than 100 books and papers on independent living and has given more than 1,000 lectures and presentations.

The Fries Prize for Improving Health award will be presented today at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) annual meeting in Atlanta. The award recognizes an individual who has made major accomplishments in health improvement with emphasis on recent contributions to health in the United States, and with the general criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. It is intended for an individual who has done the most to improve health. The Fries Prize for Improving Health award is $60,000.

The James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation is a nonprofit corporation incorporated in 1991. The mission of the Foundation is to identify and honor individuals, organizations or institutions which have made great contributions to the health of the public. The Foundation seeks to reward accomplishment rather than promise, practicality rather than theory.

The CDC Foundation is honored to partner with the James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation, which established and funds the award. As of 2016, the CDC Foundation manages and administers the Fries Foundation’s public health award programs, which include the Fries Prize for Improving Health and the Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award.

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