Honoring Judy Heumann, Disability Rights Activist (1947-2023)

It is with heavy hearts that we learn of the passing of Judith "Judy" Heumann -- widely regarded as "the mother" of the disability rights movement. 

Judy was a lifelong civil rights advocate for people with disabilities. She contracted polio in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for her mobility. She was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a "fire hazard" at the age of five. Her parents played a strong role in fighting for her rights as a child, but Judy soon determined that she, working in collaboration with other disabled people, had to play an advocacy role due to continuous discrimination. 

Judy was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living which was the first grassroots center in the United States and helped to launch the Independent Living Movement both nationally and globally. In 1983, Judy co-founded the World Institute on Disability (WID) with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon, as one of the first global disability rights organizations founded and continually led by people with disabilities that works to fully integrate people with disabilities into the communities around them via research, policy, and consulting efforts. 

From 1993 to 2001, Judy served in the Clinton Administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education. Judy then served as the World Bank's first Adviser on Disability and Development from 2002 to 2006. In this position, she led the World Bank's disability work to expand its knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the global conversation.

During his presidency, President Obama appointed Judy as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, where she served from 2010-2017. Mayor Fenty of D.C. appointed her as the first Director for the Department on Disability Services, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration. She was instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation, such as Section 504, the Individuals with Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which have been advancing the inclusion of disabled people in the US and around the world and fighting to end discrimination against all those with disabilities. 

Judy also co-authored her memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, and its Young Adult version, Rolling Warrior, and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.

Judy graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY in 1969 and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. She received numerous awards including being the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award in recognition of efforts to significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council on Independent Living. She has been awarded numerous honorary doctorates. 

The list below are resources and a tribute to her legacy:

Brittney Pond is a co-Assistant Director of the Emancipatory Sciences Lab and a doctoral student in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at UCSF.

Kourtney Nham is a co-Assistant Director of the Emancipatory Sciences Lab and a doctoral student in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at UCSF.

Jarmin Yeh is a Co-Director of the Emancipatory Sciences Lab and an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Health & Aging, Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at UCSF.