Well-known advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities Judy Heumann has passed away at 75. Her youngest brother, Rick Heumann, and her website and social media verified the news of her death on Saturday in Washington, D.C.
She had been hospitalized for a week, and he speculated that her heart problems stemmed from post-polio syndrome, which is linked to a severe childhood infection that rendered her unable to walk by the age of 2. According to her sibling, she spent the remainder of her life battling for access, first for herself and later for others.
“It wasn’t about glory for my sister or anything like that at all. It was always about how could she make things better for other people,” he said, adding that the family drew solace from the tributes that poured in on Twitter from dignitaries and past presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
She was a crucial player in the movement that resulted in the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, People with Disabilities Education Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. Beginning in 1993 during the Clinton administration, she worked as the assistant secretary of the United States Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services until 2001.
It was in May 2008 that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities was approved, and Heumann was an active participant in its passage.
According to her website, she was a founding member of the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability, and she served on the boards of directors for a number of organizations in the field.
These included the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion, and the United States International Council on Disability.
In addition to her adult memoir, “Rolling Warrior,” Heumann also authored the young adult version, “Being Heumann,” which details her life from birth in Philadelphia in 1947 to her adult years in New York City.
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Her parents, German Jews who escaped the Holocaust, explain the difficulty they had enrolling their daughter in school in her book. “Children with impairments were considered a hardship, economically and socially,” she wrote.
In his words, “We honestly feel that prejudice is wrong in any way, shape, or form.”
After finishing high school, Judy Heumann attended Long Island University for her undergraduate degree and the University of California, Berkeley for her master’s in public health.
We at Disability Action are heart broken to hear of the death of Judy Heumann. Judy advanced the rights of disabled people across the globe. Rest in Power Judy. pic.twitter.com/hIKGOryG81
— Disability Action (@disabilityni) March 5, 2023
According to Maria Town, president and chief executive officer of the American Association of Persons with Disabilities, this innovative work demonstrates how far society has come for people with disabilities.
“Today the expectation for children with disabilities is that we will be included in mainstream education, that we will have a chance to go to high school, to go to college and to get those degrees,” Town said while acknowledging that inequities persist.
“But I think the fact that the primary assumption has changed is a really big deal, and I also think Judy played a significant role.”
In 2020, she will be featured in the documentary film “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which will focus on Camp Jened, a summer camp that Heumann attended and which was signed at the beginning of the disability rights movement. Many Academy Awards were considered for this movie.
Town, who suffers from cerebral palsy, claimed that Heumann first suggested she buy a mobility scooter. After being told for as long as she could remember that she needed to make her disability less obvious, she didn’t take the news well at first. Nonetheless, she eventually decided to give it a shot.
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