SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (AP) _ Detroit Free Press columnist Jim Neubacher, who became an advocate for the rights of disabled people after developing multiple sclerosis, died Thursday at age 40.

Neubacher died at Providence Hospital, where he was taken March 16 after lapsing into a coma at his parents' home in West Bloomfield Township.

''He was an outstanding journalist,'' Gov. James Blanchard said Thursday. ''Through his column he brought strength, understanding and assistance to his readers.''

Neubacher joined the Free Press in 1971 after graduating from the University of Michigan. He worked as a city desk reporter and as the Free Press' first Canada correspondent and columnist.

Neubacher's multiple sclerosis was diagnosed in 1980 when he was 29. In 1982, he returned to Detroit and started his weekly column, ''Disabled in Detroit.''

Through the column, Neubacher became a leader for disabled activists across the state.

In 1988, Blanchard presented Neubacher with Michigan's first Victory Award.

Survivors include his parents, James and Margaret Neubacher, a brother and three sisters. Services were scheduled for Saturday.