Disability, General

Remembering Judy Heumann, the Mother of Disability Rights

July 31, 2023 • By

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Last Updated: July 31, 2023

Photo of Judy HeumannAs Disability Pride Month comes to a close, Betsy Beaumon, Social Security’s Chief Transformation Officer, reflects on the legacy of disability rights leader, Judy Heumann.

On March 4, 2023, the world lost one of the leading voices for people with disabilities. Because of her pivotal and relentless work throughout her life, Judy was often called the “mother of disability rights.” We lost Judy way too soon; however, it seems to have been on her own terms. She passed away on “March Forth” and her funeral services fell on International Women’s Day. It is a reminder of the force of will that Judy displayed throughout her life.

As Judy described in her 2020 book, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, she contracted polio at the age of 2 and began to use a wheelchair. She was initially denied the right to attend school because she was considered a “fire hazard.” Her parents fought to get her admitted. After graduating from Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York in 1969, Judy was denied her teaching license due to her disability. She sued the Board of Education and became the first wheelchair user to be a teacher in the state of New York.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” she wrote, “But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.” — Judy Heumann

She began to fight for civil rights for all people with disabilities, famously including a 26-day sit-in at a Federal building in San Francisco. This action led to the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which became a model for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that we celebrate every year in July. The ADA became a model for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Judy worked on both the ADA and the CRPD in various roles. She co-founded two major nonprofits that are active today: the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California and the World Institute on Disability in Oakland, California.

Judy was also a Federal Leader. She deeply understood the critical role and responsibility of government in removing systemic barriers. Her work at the Department of Education in the 1990s helped pave the way for students with disabilities to physically attend public school and learn the same curriculum as their non-disabled peers, including via the latest digital, accessible educational materials.

I was working on providing digital accessible materials to both U.S. students and people around the globe when we met. Judy had just assumed a new role as Special Advisor for Disability Rights at the Department of State. She was keenly interested in how her role could expand the reach of State’s portfolio of programs to the billion people with disabilities around the world. I was also looking at how my nonprofit organization could better support disability rights efforts. Her many introductions made our own work possible.

I remember seeing Judy’s work across the State Department take hold as programs not previously inclusive of disability rights or accessibility asked for our input and added more explicit disability programming.

Even though Judy’s federal career was spent at the Departments of Education and State, she influenced countless people across the Federal government, including our agency. As Disability Pride Month comes to a close, let’s build on Judy’s legacy by continuing to reduce the burdens people with disabilities face when they access our services and programs.

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  1. Sourabh S.

    What a powerful tribute to Judy Heumann, a true champion for disability rights whose impact resonates far beyond her time. Her relentless pursuit of equality and justice has left an indelible mark, and it’s heartening to see her legacy being celebrated as Disability Pride Month concludes.

    Judy’s unwavering determination, as highlighted in her memoir “Being Heumann,” serves as an inspiration to challenge societal norms and advocate for one’s rights. It’s incredible to think how her actions, including the historic 26-day sit-in, laid the groundwork for monumental legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

    As we reflect on Judy’s contributions, it’s essential to recognize ongoing efforts in the realm of disability rights.

    Judy’s legacy challenges us to build a world where systemic barriers are dismantled, ensuring inclusivity in all aspects of life. Let’s carry forward her spirit by continuing to reduce burdens faced by people with disabilities, making our services and programs more accessible. Together, we can honor Judy Heumann’s memory and advance the cause she so passionately championed. I also found somthing useful for education: https://www.oliveboard.in/jaiib/ you can check this

  2. john

    thank fot her sheep

  3. Tony

    I wonder how veterans with 100% PSTD or other mental health disorders are able to work and commit fraud against the VA and SSA. We know the VA is stupid, but the SSA should be smarter.

    38 C.F.R. 4.130 for the 100% rating states “Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as:”

    It does state total occupational or social impairment. It is both when they are rated 100%.

    If they are working to collect a huge SSDI benefit in addition to the 100% VA disability rating, then they are committing fraud. Their 100% VA rating is a fraud if they are working with the 100% VA rating to collect SSDI in addition to their 100% VA disability.

    The fraudsters know the VA is stupid, but they think the SSA is dumb too. The SSA needs to prosecute these fraudsters.

  4. VictorMalcaLaw

    She is a true leader and mother. I hope many people will be inspired and become like her to help others.

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