United Hero:  Colleen Fraser

Colleen Fraser

Colleen Fraser Colleen Fraser
51 years old
Elizabeth, NJ

The following is from a tribute page at the New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council Web site.

Colleen, an advocate for people with disabilities for 20 years, served on the [New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council] for more than 11 years. She was appointed chair of the Council by Governor James Florio in 1990 and served in that position for five years. In July, she was elected by the Council as its vice-chair.

Colleen was recently hired as executive director of the Progressive Center for Independent Living (PCIL), the independent living center for Mercer and Hunterdon counties and is president of the board of Community Access Unlimited, an Elizabeth-based non-profit agency providing housing, employment and support services for 7,000 people with disabilities. She was on her way to a seminar on grant writing, to boost her skills for her new job at PCIL when her plane went down. Over her career she served as director of the Union County Office on the Disabled and as the director of D.I.A.L., another independent living center.

Colleen is well known statewide as a leading voice for people with disabilities. She advocated strongly for community living options for people with developmental disabilities, urging the state to move more quickly to end the institutionalization of more the 1,500 people still living in the state's large developmental centers who have been determined ready to move and who want to move. She also worked tirelessly to promote the importance of listening to people with disabilities about the supports they need and making sure those supports meet those needs.

Colleen had also established a national reputation for her fiery advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities. She was instrumental in launching a statewide initiative to improve health care for women with disabilities following her participation in a national conference on the same topic. She joined other New Jersey advocates to lead the largest state contingent supporting the ADA at the first congressional hearing on that landmark legislation.

Recently she led a group of people with disabilities to a "Speak Out" on deinstitutionalization in Washington. This event typified her passionate support of the 1998 Supreme Court decision, Olmstead vs. L.C., which ruled it was a violation of a person's rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to keep them in an institutional setting past the time when it had been determined to be appropriate. Colleen believed this landmark decision was a key component to her ongoing efforts to get people with disabilities out of institutions and nursing homes.

A colleague and friend of Colleen's, Robin (Zimenoff) Bolduc, wrote on the NJDDC memorial site:

I can picture her on that plane -- flaming red hair, cane flying -- leading the charge -- 'We are Americans -- we rule our own destinies.'

Click here for more.

For the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's biography of Colleen L. Fraser, click here.