Anna Fay was a true pioneer in disability rights, one of the founders and leaders of the Independent Living movement nationally and locally.

Anna was instrumental in the creation of the Center for Independence of the Disabled of New York (CIDNY) in the 1970s and was an officer of the Westchester/Yonkers Independent Living Center in the 1980s and ‘90s.

At the time of her death in 2017 at the age of 79, she was senior vice president of independent living services at the Independence Care System in New York City. Anna did not set out to be a fierce advocate for people with disabilities. She came to it by her natural zest for life and desire to get more out of it than what people with disabilities had been afforded.

She acquired her disability after contracting polio at age 6. In the Bronx in the 1940s, children with disabilities had to make do with a few hours of schooling a week, separate from nondisabled peers. Despite this, Anna passed her Regents exams and graduated from high school at age 15, then studied medical administration at New York City Technical College in Brooklyn. After graduation, she spent 30 years in the medical administration field, first at the Rusk Institute and then at Mount Sinai Hospital.

As a student, frustrated with the state of charter transportation service between her home and school, she taught herself to drive with hand controls. Years later, during the energy crisis of 1973, she fought successfully to exempt people with disabilities from a ban on motor vehicles in the city. This success emboldened the disability community to push for greater access to all public accommodations and raise awareness of disability issues throughout society.

In 1977, Anna took part in a national sit-in campaign to force the federal government to keep its promise to end discrimination based on disability by entities receiving federal funds. These demonstrations led Joseph Califano, secretary of what was then called the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, to move ahead on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which provided the legal framework and much of the language for the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.

Anna remained involved in activism after the ADA became law. In her mid-70s she participated in civil disobedience at Princeton University to protest Peter Singer’s arguments for euthanizing infants with disabilities, proving she was willing to be arrested in defense of the dignity of all people with disabilities.

At Independence Care System, Anna led the Member Council and helped create the Civics League for Disability Rights, a forum for ICS members, other New Yorkers with disabilities and their allies to learn from one another to be activists and self-advocates. Members of that the forum have testified at a state Assembly hearing on home health care, educated members of Congress about complex medical equipment and engaged in protests against Medicaid cuts. Anna Fay was a shining light in the disability rights movement whose work will continue to benefits individuals with disabilities for generations to come.