During the immediate days following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, a dedicated group of individuals, led by Lex Frieden, director of Independent Living Research Utilization in Houston, Texas, set up a phone-in clearinghouse to help storm victims with disabilities. Frieden’s own experience during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 had prepared him for this critical moment. He was keenly aware of the need for shelter, equipment, medical attention and nourishment that thousands of people with disabilities from the Gulf Coast were experiencing. He also knew how to lead, having held numerous key positions, including senior vice president of The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research; first director and current chair of the National Council on Disability; co-author of the national policy that became the Americans with Disabilities Act; and past president of Rehabilitation International. But it is as director of ILRU that Frieden jumped into action to assist independent living centers and individuals with disabilities in the devastated region. In doing so, he helped thousands of people and earned the gratitude and respect of the disability community. That is why New Mobility is pleased to honor Lex Frieden as our Person of the Year.
During those harrowing first days after Hurricane Katrina blasted through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, ILRU received a call from the Federal Emergency Management Administration asking for referral help for storm evacuees who have disabilities. Within hours Frieden gathered his staff of 20, and they began working shifts to field what quickly became 300 to 500 daily calls from thei