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Frieda Zames 1932-2005: Champion of the Disabled

Ellen Davidson Jun 28, 2005

The disability rights movement suffered a mighty loss June 16 when Frieda Zames, an activist, author and singer, died in her sleep. She was a mainstay of Disabled in Action, a civil rights organization founded in 1970, serving as president more than once and as vice president for legislative affairs at the time of her death. She was also on the boards of WBAI and the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York.

Zames was central in the successful campaign to make New York City buses wheelchair accessible and had recently turned her focus to the ferries.

Said Eric Levine, musical director of the Disabled in Action Singers, “Frieda worked for disabled-rights before anyone knew what the concept really meant and she and her sister ended up defining these concepts in her book… Frieda taught me a lot of what I know about the subject of disability, which helped me with my own identity as a person with a disability. Frieda’s death leaves a big void, but her example leaves us all determined to struggle.”

“Many of the victories in the disability civil rights movement we all now enjoy can be directly attributed to Frieda,” said fellow activists Anne and Sidney Emerman. “A petite woman, she was a giant in our midst, truly a national and local treasure.”