James Anthony “Jim” Hayes, advocate for the disabled in higher education, was born on July 28, 1949, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of Jimmy and Esther (Duckworth) Hayes. He attended Paschal High School in Fort Worth and graduated in 1967. The summer following his graduation, on his eighteenth birthday, he suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident at Lake Benbrook. After his injury, he spent several months recovering at Cook Children’s Medical Center and learned to function as a paraplegic. Shortly before his release, one of the nurses told him that he should not let his handicap keep him from doing what he loved. This advice sparked a drive within Hayes that influenced his strong determination for the rest of his life.
Prior to his accident, Hayes had planned to join the United States Army the Monday following his birthday, because his grades in high school were not good enough to get him accepted into a four-year university. A year after his recovery, in August 1968, he enrolled at Tarrant County Junior College because it was only five minutes from his home. He was able to attend with funding from the Texas Rehabilitation Commission (TRC), although TRC was hesitant to give him a grant to attend college because of his poor grades. Hayes worked hard, however, and during his second year, he was elected student body president and served two consecutive terms in 1969–70 and 1970–71. He earned an associate’s degree in 1971 and then in the fall of 1971 transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) where he was the first disabled student to live on campus. Because history classes were taught in one of the few buildings that was wheelchair accessible at that time, Hayes chose history as his major. He immediately began working with the other four disabled students at UTA to find ways to improve campus accessibility. In a 1971 editorial in the university’s newspaper, The Shorthorn, Hayes listed problematic areas on campus and proposed solutions to correct them. The student newspaper’s editors observed, “UT Arlington has been and is a leader in this concern for handicapped students. Action on Hayes` resolution will keep it there.”
Hayes and the newly-formed Handicapped Students Association, for which he served as president, scheduled a day in March 1974 for UTA administrators to experience the challenges faced by students in wheelchairs. President Wendell Nedderman, Vice President of Student Affairs Wayne Duke, and Director of the Physical Plant Dudley Wetzel took part. The objective was to navigate across campus with no ramps. Duke only made it a few feet before flipping his chair backwards and tearing his coat. The trip helped convince him to give Hayes and his colleagues the support they needed. Duke worked with Hayes and another handicapped student, Sam Provence, to obtain a $34,000 grant from the Texas Rehabilitation Commission (TRC) to help improve campus accessibility. UTA then matched the funds from TRC, bringing the total to $68,000. Nedderman recalled this as a very enlightening experience. “There`s nothing but problems on the campus as far as accommodating the physically handicapped. This tour that Jim gave us was a real eye-opener, and I think started the real movement toward improving the campus for the handicapped.” On this tour of the campus, he learned that entering the men`s restroom was a major issue. He also for the first time became aware of how much of a problem an ordinary curb is to physically-handicapped students attempting to navigate the UTA campus.
Hayes strongly advocated a college education for people with disabilities, so they could become productive citizens instead of relying on Social Security disability. He graduated with a history degree from UTA in 1974. In 1975 he was hired as the director of Educational Support Services at UTA, a position created to assist students with disabilities who lived on campus. This office was funded by a combination of grants from the TRC, the federal government, and UTA, which contributed 10 percent of the funds. By 1976, 200 handicapped students attended UTA, at a time when disabled students were generally not encouraged to attend university. Hayes planned to reach students still in high school to show them what services UTA could provide. His office received a $33,000 grant used to hire live-in assistants for the severely disabled, enabling them to live on campus.
Hayes also emphasized that learning at the university level did not end in the classroom: enabling disabled students to live on campus would help teach them social skills as well. Part of this grant was also used to develop physical education programs for the disabled. Hayes later characterized this as one of the first grants of its kind for a four-year university. The start of this program at UTA quickly attracted interest from nearly twenty other colleges. Several universities inquired about the program, and Hayes was always more than willing to answer their questions. One of the best ways to achieve independence, Hayes believed, was through physical activity. He worked with the administration to start a physical education program for disabled students on campus—the first of its kind in Texas. The first class met in fall of 1976 with only a handful of students, but by spring of 1977, twenty-one students had preregistered. Additionally, Hayes helped found the Arlington Handicapped Association in 1976, and in 1979 he was instrumental in helping Arlington establish a wheelchair-accessible public transit service.
Hayes`s main goal as an educator and mentor was to help the disabled obtain a college education and become self-supporting citizens. A 1985 article in The Shorthorn stated that college enrollment of handicapped students increased from 2.6 percent in 1978 to 7.4 percent in 1985 across the U.S. When Handicapped Student Services began in 1976, there were only twenty-three students in the program; nine years later in 1985 there were 375. In 1971 there were only five students at UTA who used wheelchairs; as of 1985, that number had climbed to 103.
When President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990, Hayes was chosen as the ADA coordinator at UTA and was charged with making sure the campus was ADA compliant. He maintained a record of all complaints and grievances filed relating to ADA regulations. These regulations included requirements set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which emphasized that no individual be denied opportunity due to their disability, a movement that UTA began back in the early 1970s, thanks in large part to the changes led by Jim Hayes.
In 1976, concerned that so many disabled people died early deaths because of a sedentary lifestyle, Hayes started and coached the UTA Freewheelers, a wheelchair basketball team. In 1988 the team joined the National Wheelchair Basketball Association intercollegiate division and changed its name from the Freewheelers to the Movin’ Mavs. Under Hayes’s coaching, the Movin’ Mavs won seven national titles and sent twenty athletes to the Paralympics. In 1993 Hayes and the Movin’ Mavs were honored by President William Clinton at the White House.
Hayes himself was a top athlete in both wheelchair basketball and wheelchair road racing. Hayes earned bronze medals for the men’s 100m and 200m in the 1984 Paralympic Games. In 1986 he rolled his chair approximately 205 miles—from Austin to Arlington—to raise awareness of the Arlington Handicapped Association. He was honored as Man of the Year in 2000 by the organization Helping Restore Ability.
Hayes died at age fifty-eight on May 24, 2008, at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. He was buried at Laurel Lane Memorial Park in Fort Worth.