When he was in high school, Frederick A. Fay would shoot baskets for hours in his Bethesda, Md., backyard. Then, before heading inside, he might execute a routine of flips on a trapeze.
That was his intention one day toward the end of his junior year in 1961. Hands slick with sweat from shooting hoops, he jumped up to grab the trapeze and completed two flips. Then he lost his grip and fell 10 feet, uttering a profanity as he went down. He swore all the way to the hospital, where he learned that he had broken his neck in two places.
He was, at 16, a quadriplegic - one who would refuse to let his physical impairments define him.
At 17 Fay co-founded a support network for disabled people. Later he organized demonstrations and lobbying campaigns to expand their civil rights. He played a major role in winning support for the federal Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which guarantees job rights and access to public facilities.
Fay was "one of the ringleaders who created the independent movement to get the disability community organized," said former California Congressman Tony Coelho, who has epilepsy and was the original sponsor of the landmark legislation. "People liked to pat us on the head and say, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of you.' Fred was one of those who said, 'Thank you, but we'd like to take care of ourselves.'"