Judith Heumann

Judith Heumann, the astoundingly inspiring, internationally recognized disability rights activist, died March 5 at the age of 75.

Heumann was instrumental in the passage of several major bills, including the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures children with disabilities receive a free appropriate education.

“As Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services during the Clinton Administration, Judy helped ensure that students with disabilities not only had the right to physically attend public school but that such students had the right to learn the same curriculum as their non-disabled peers,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “Her leadership is realized in the nearly 20 percentage point jump from 2000 to 2023 in the number of students with disabilities who graduate with a standard high school diploma.”

Born in Brooklyn, Heumann contracted polio as a child in 1949, and used a wheelchair for her mobility, writes the ACLU. “She was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a ‘fire hazard’ at the age of five.”

The AP has a great rundown of some of her many accomplishments, including:

  • Heumann lobbied for legislation that also led to the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity operated by recipients of federal funds.
  • She served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, beginning in 1993 in the Clinton administration, until 2001.
  • Heumann also was involved in passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in May 2008.
  • She helped found the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and the World Institute on Disability.

Below are tweets commemorating Heumann’s life and work, and which include links to illuminating videos and podcasts.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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