Judy Heumann Dead at Age 75
Judy Heumann, a legendary activist who devoted her life to advocating for the rights of disabled people, passed away at the age of 75 in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. The news of her death was posted on her website and social media accounts, and was later confirmed by the American Association of People with Disabilities.
Heumann, who contracted polio at the age of two, lost her ability to walk but refused to let her disability define her. She became an advocate for disabled individuals, and through her tireless work, she helped change the perception of disability from a negative to a positive attribute.
Her advocacy work resulted in significant legislative victories for the disabled community, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. Heumann served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services during the Clinton administration, from 1993 to 2001.
Heumann was an integral part of the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in May 2008. She was a co-founder of the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability, and also served on the boards of several related organizations.
Her advocacy work began early in life when her parents struggled to secure a place for her in school. Heumann’s book, “Being Heumann,” recounts their struggle, as kids with disabilities were then considered an economic and social burden. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Heumann’s legacy was celebrated in the 2020 documentary film, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which chronicled the story of Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled youth, where Heumann spent her summers as a child. The documentary received an Academy Award nomination.
Heumann’s work was not limited to legislative victories. She was a trailblazer in other areas as well. In 1977, she led a nonviolent occupation of a San Francisco federal building that led to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act. She also won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education, becoming the first teacher in the state who was able to work while using a wheelchair, which the board had initially claimed was a fire hazard.
Heumann’s work, both legislative and otherwise, had a profound impact on the disabled community, and she helped change the narrative around disability. Her work helped individuals with disabilities accept themselves for who they were, and take pride in their identities. She empowered disabled individuals and helped them realize their power.
Her death is a great loss to the disabled community, but her legacy will live on through the many individuals whose lives she touched and inspired.
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