Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Judy Heumann

By Kayla Brown, Program Coordinator
Judy Heumann protesting in the 70's.

Judith “Judy” Heumann (1947-2023)

Disability rights activist Judy Heumann passed away on March 4, 2023, leaving many of us to reflect on her impact over the years for the rights of people with disabilities. Judy was raised in Brooklyn, New York and contracted polio at age two. At a young age, Judy experienced the many barriers experienced by people with disabilities, including institutionalization and being denied a basic education. These experiences only made her more determined to change society to include all people with the same opportunities, regardless of ability.

Her early activism, recently documented in the film Crip Camp, her talent for turning ideas into actions became evident. Unsurprisingly, she helped organize the historic 26-day Section 504 Sit-In, and uplifted the disabled community's voice in pressing legislators to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 into law.

This was an incredible milestone for the disability rights movement, but she wasn’t done fighting. Some of her many influential roles, as noted in judithheumann.com, Judy served as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration, served as the first Advisor on Disability and Development at the World Bank, worked as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department during the Obama Administration, and was appointed as Washington, D.C.’s first Director for the Department on Disability Services.

To learn more about Judy, she co-authored her memoir, Being Heumann, and its Young Adult version, Rolling Warrior. While a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, she produced the white paper Road Map for Inclusion. You can hear from Judy herself by listening to her podcast, The Heumann Perspective, featuring conversations with disabled changemakers and their allies. Finally, you can watch the powerful documentary, Crip Camp, which highlights the early stages of the disability rights movement from the eyes of the disabled activists, including Judy.

Thank you, Judy, for all you have done. You set the foundation for future disability activists to continue your vision. Look at where we are now. This is your legacy.