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AmeriDisability Joins Disability Community in Mourning Activist Judy Heumann

AmeriDisability joins the disability community and the community-at-large in mourning the passing of Judith “Judy” Heumann, a prominent activist who lead the disability rights movement for decades.

As outlined in a press statement on her website (judithheumann.com), Judy was at the forefront of major disability rights demonstrations, helped spearhead the passage of disability rights legislation, founded national and international disability advocacy organizations, held senior federal government positions, co-authored her memoir (Being Heumann) and its young adult version (Rolling Warrior), and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution. Judy became known as “the mother” of the disability rights movement.

Judy was born in 1946 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and raised in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of two, she contracted polio which proved to be debilitating. At the time, diversity and inclusion were, of course, in no way the norm. In fact, her parents were advised to institutionalize their daughter because of her mobility disabilities. However, her parents fought for Judy to have, as much as possible, equal opportunities including within the classroom.

Judy went on to earn a B.A. from Long Island University, in addition to a Master’s in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley. Initially pursuing a career in education, Judy was denied a teaching license by the New York Board of Education because “they feared she could not help evacuate students or herself in case of fire.” She then sued for her workplace rights and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair.

Judy continued to fight for civil rights throughout her lifespan. She helped lead a protest against Nixon’s veto of the 1972 Rehabilitation Act, and she launched a lengthy sit-in at a federal building in San Francisco to get Section 504 of the revived Rehabilitation Act enforced.

Judy was instrumental in developing and implementing national disability rights legislation, including Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Judy Heumann

Judy also helped found the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement and the World Institute on Disability. She served on the board of directors for many disability-serving charities.

In 1993, Judy moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration, a role she filled until 2001. Next, from 2002-2006, she served as the first advisor on disability and development at the World Bank. From 2010-2017, during the Obama Administration, she worked as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department. And she was appointed as Washington, D.C.’s first Director for the Department on Disability Services.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” Judy wrote, “But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.”

In addition to her advocacy work and busy professional life, Judy loved to attend musicals and movies, travel the world and engage with friends. Judy passed away on March 4, 2023, at the age of 75. The announcement of her passing did not specify her cause of death. She is survived by her husband Jorge Pineda and several close-knit loved ones.

Memorial Service for Judy Heumann

A memorial service for Judy Heumann will be held on Wednesday, March 8 at 10 a.m. (EST) at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec St. NW, Washington, DC 20008. A burial service is set to follow, at noon, at Judean Memorial Gardens, 16225 Batchellors Forest Rd., Olney, MD 20832. Following the burial, the family will be receiving guests at a gathering held at Adas Israel.

The memorial and burial will be live-streamed on Adas Israel’s website. Please click here to join the livestream. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live captioning will be provided for the in-person and live-stream memorial and burial services.

In lieu of flowers, donations made in Judy’s honor may be made to a forthcoming list of organizations.

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