Anna Fay, who served as ICS Senior Vice President for Independent Living, contracted polio in 1944 at the age of six. She was a renowned leader in the New York disability rights movement beginning in the 1970s and up until her death. She was also a role model and mentor to four generations of people with disabilities who sought to live independently, outside of institutions. Shortly after Anna’s death, she was chosen as an inaugural inductee into the New York State Disability Rights Hall of Fame.
Anna worked with the Queens-based Architectural Barriers Committee in the early 1970s, promoting the adoption of newly-enacted federal standards for buildings and public spaces to make them accessible for people with disabilities. She helped lead a watershed demonstration in 1973 of New Yorkers with disabilities who successfully demanded that New York State add them to the list of those exempted from a ban on motor vehicles in the city when gas was being rationed because of the OPEC oil embargo. Their success emboldened the disability community to push for greater access to all kinds of public accommodations.
Anna took part in a national sit-in campaign in 1977 to force the federal government to keep its promise to end discrimination based on disability by entities receiving federal money. She joined a small group of demonstrators who occupied the New York City office of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) for 48 hours while a larger group demonstrated outside. These demonstrations led US HEW Secretary Joseph Califano to move ahead on Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, which would provide the legal framework and much of the language for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Anna also played an important role in the founding of important New York institutions. She led the formation of the New York City chapter of the National Paraplegia Foundation and served as its first president. Believing the community needed a more full-time agency to help people with disabilities achieve independence, she helped secure the grant that transformed the chapter into the state’s first independent living center, CIDNY – which to this day conducts landmark disability rights litigation and advocacy.
Anna was present at the creation of and served as a New York delegate on the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities (ACCD), a national cross-disability organization that helped write Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, among other major accomplishments on behalf of people with disabilities. Her advocacy continued throughout her life.
Listen to an Independence Radio interview with Anna on her decades of activism recorded near the end of her remarkable life.
For an incredible first-hand account of the late 20th Century Disability Rights Movement, read an interview with Anna conducted by the University of California’s Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement Oral History Project.