On the Passing of Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann

It is with great sadness and deepest respect that we at TPGi offer our condolences to the family of Judith (Judy) Heumann, often referred to as “the mother of the disability rights movement”, who died on the 4th of March, 2023.

Judy was a trailblazer all her life through the simple device of refusing to be discriminated against on the basis of her disability.

As a child with polio in 1950s New York, Judy’s family insisted on her rights to not be institutionalized and to go to school. Judy eventually graduated first with a BA from Long Island University, and then a Masters degree from University of California, Berkeley.

Judy attended Camp Jened in the 1960s, a summer camp in the Catskills that became a hotbed for activism among a generation of young people with disability, and from which emerged leaders of the disability rights movement, Judy among them. This became the focus of an award-winning 2020 documentary, Crip Camp, A Disability Revolution, which features footage of young Judy.

Judy returned to Camp Jened as a counsellor in the 1970s, a period during which she was at first refused a license to teach despite her university degree. Judy went to court to win the right to become the first teacher in New York state to use a wheelchair.

In the early 1970s, Judy also was among the leaders of a protest that shut down traffic in Manhattan and a 26 day sit-in in San Francisco to ensure The Rehabilitation Act was legislated and enforced.

In the following decades, Judy was involved in implementing several key pieces of legislation affecting people with disabilities, not least the Americans with Disabilities Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Her influence extended beyond the United States and her activism directly inspired many people who developed disability rights legislation around the world. Judy was also directly instrumental in setting up many U.S. organizations that focused on disability rights and support, and served on the boards of many other organizations focused on human rights and disability.

Judy served in public office positions under both the Clinton and Obama administrations, and in the early 2000s was Advisor on Disability and Development to the World Bank.

In 2020, Judy published her memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, a version of which was produced for young readers under the title Rolling Warrior, “the incredible, sometimes awkward, true story of a rebel girl on wheels who helped spark a revolution.”

In 2022, Judy’s podcast The Heumann Perspective was a Gold Signal Awards Winner.

Throughout her life, Judy was forthright in her determination that she, and other disabled people, would not have their lives limited by what we now call the social model of disability, where barriers to independence are created and maintained by society that does not understand or cater to their needs.

In word and deed, Judy provided a role model and left a legacy that informs the work of organizations like TPGi, and we will always continue to honor her commitment to disability rights and accessibility.

Rest In Power, Judy Heumann.


Originally published: https://www.tpgi.com/on-the-passing-of-judy-heumann/

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