On March 4, 2023, the disability community lost a longtime leader and hero, Judy Heumann, who died of a heart attack at the age of 75.
Heumann, a disability civil rights activist, author, speaker, and administrator in two presidential administrations, served during her lifetime as a driving force behind such landmark disability rights legislation as the Rehabilitation Act and the American Disabilities Act, and as a vocal proponent of equality in such as areas as special education, independent living, and digital accessibility.
Heumann became a wheelchair user after having contracted polio as a child and becoming unable to walk. After graduating college, she sought to enter a career in teaching, but was initially denied the opportunity to obtain her teaching license due to her mobility impairment. After a legal battle in New York in which she sued the Board of Education and won, she became the state’s first teacher who used a wheelchair.
Heumann went on to dedicate her life to promoting rights for people with disabilities. Instrumental in the passage of disability rights legislation and a standout voice for the disability community, she organized major peaceful demonstrations starting in the 1970s that helped push disability rights issues into national headlines.
“Because the country was so inaccessible, disabled people had a hard time getting out and doing things – which made us invisible,” Heumann wrote in her 2020 memoir, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.”
“So we were easy to discount and ignore. Until institutions were forced to accommodate us we would remain locked out and invisible – and as long as we were locked out and invisible, no one would see our true force and would dismiss us.”
Read more in a news release regarding her passing from JudithHeumann.com.