Cover photo for Frederick A. Fay's Obituary
Frederick A. Fay Profile Photo
1944 Frederick 2011

Frederick A. Fay

September 12, 1944 — August 20, 2011

Frederick "Fred" A. Fay PhD, age 66 of Concord passed away on Saturday, August 20, 2011 at his residence. He was the long-time life partner of Trish Irons and the father of Derick Fay of Riverside, CA.

Born in Washington DC on September 12, 1944 he was the son of the late Allan B. and Janet C. (Wright) Fay.

An athletic teenager, Fred sustained a cervical spinal cord injury at 16 after falling from a trapeze. In rehab he faced the reality that he would never walk again and determined he would live a normal life anyway. In his wheelchair, he discovered the world was not designed for people with disabilities. "Every single curb was like a Berlin Wall telling me I was not welcome to travel farther than a block." He made it his life's mission to change that. At age 17 he launched his disability advocacy career by co-founding with his mother Janet "Opening Doors", a counseling and information center, and the Architectural Barriers Project, which paved the way for an accessible subway system in Washington, D.C. However, much work remained. When President Johnson invited Fred to the White House for the signing of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, his wheel chair had to be bumped up the steps – the White House was not accessible. Fred next turned his efforts to the Architectural Barriers Act, which was passed in 1968.

Fred gained admission to one of only two wheel-chair accessible schools in the country, the University of Illinois, earning a B.S. in psychology and M.S. in counseling psychology. After a three-year stint with IBM, he returned to Illinois to complete a Ph.D. in educational psychology.

While working in institutions in the Boston area as a rehabilitation psychologist he was moved by the virtual incarceration of people with severe disabilities. He founded or co-founded the Boston Center for Independent Living, the Massachusetts Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, and the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities. In 1977 he became director of research and training at Tufts University New England Medical Center, managing efforts to promote independent living. 1978, the United State Jaycees named him one of Ten Outstanding Young Americans.

Eventually, syringomyelia made it impossible for him to sit upright. Fred retired from Tufts but continued his life mission from his home in Concord, MA. Using a remarkable array of technology including a motorized bed, computers, telephones and faxes he fostered and inspired a network of disability rights activists across the country. He was a disability policy advisor to several administrations and Congress, contributing substantially to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. His home became a campaign stop for political luminaries. He also received international visitors seeking to advance the cause of disability rights around the world. With Justin Dart, he launched Justice for All, a ground breaking on-line space bringing together people with disabilities.

In 1997, Fred was honored with the Henry B. Betts award for outstanding achievements in civil rights for Americans with disabilities. In 2006, he received the American Association of People with Disabilities Justice for All award. Jonathan Young, Chairman of the National Council on Disability said, "Fred's work helped transform our nation from coast to coast. So much of what disability advocates do today is a direct result of the trails people like Fred Fay blazed for us."

A PBS film on Independent Lens, Lives Worth Living, by Eric Neudel, will air October 27. The film documents Fred's role in the growth of the disability rights movement.

Along with Trish and his son Derick, he is survived by his siblings, Jean Fay Depp of NC, Margaret Fay Pippin of MO and Brewster W. Fay of PA, Trish's children Joan Barberich of MA and Chris Barberich of CA, as well as many nieces, nephews, cousins, friends and well respected colleagues.

Saturday, September 10, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital of Cambridge (formerly Youville Hospital)
1575 Cambridge Street


Boston Center for Independent Living
60 Temple Place - 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02111


Visits: 16

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors