Today we are honoring Judith Heumann, whom many refer to as “the mother of disability rights.”
Judith Heumann was born in 1947 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania then later moved to Brooklyn, New York with her family. At the height of the polio epidemic, Judith contracted the disease. She would require a wheelchair for mobility for the rest of her life. Her first brush with activism came in the form of being denied access to kindergarten as a young child. The school cited her wheelchair as a fire hazard and informed her she would not be accepted. Her mother Ilse Heumann was a strong advocate for her daughter and fought to have her be able to attend school. Heumann eventually graduated from Long Island University in 1969 and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975
Judith Heumann’s list of achievements is extensive, spanning 75 years dedicated to activism. A few of these achievements include:
- Becoming the first wheelchair user to teach in the state of New York.
- Leading the historic 1977 504 Sit-In in San Francisco where the 26-day protest led to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act being signed into law. This act specified that no government agency, or even a private business, that accepted federal funds could discriminate against someone on the basis of their disability.
- She was instrumental in founding the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and helped launch the Independent Living Movement.
- Helped usher in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- In 1993, President Bill Clinton named Heumann as assistant secretary of education, in charge of all of the nation’s federal education programs for students with disabilities.
- Worked under the Obama administration as a special assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
- Released the 2020 memoir Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist
Judith Heumann’s contributions to the disability rights movement cannot be overstated. She was an inimitable force in creating legislation and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.
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