US Disability rights activist Judy Heumann dies aged 75
Judy Heumann, a well-known advocate for disabled people, passed away at 75.
Heumann was an international leader in the disability rights movement, whose activism helped to implement major legislation in the United States.
After contracting polio as a child, she became the first wheelchair user to work as a teacher in New York City.
She died in Washington DC on Saturday.
According to a message on her website, Heumann was “widely considered as the mother” of the disability rights movement.
It was her leadership that led to major demonstrations for disability rights, as well as helping to pass laws and establish national and international advocacy groups.
Heumann was also a member of the Clinton and Obama administrations and has more than 20 years of experience in non-profit experience.
Barack Obama stated that he was “fortunate to work with Heumann” and paid tribute to her lifetime commitment to civil rights.
The American Association of People with Disabilities led the tributes. She said that her leadership “advanced people with disabilities’ rights and inherent dignity”.
Born in 1947 in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, New York, she contracted polio when she was two years old and lost the ability to walk.
She was not allowed to attend preschool, because her wheelchair was considered a “fire hazard”, and when she eventually got into a school at age nine, she recounted being treated as a “second-class citizen”.
Her parents fought for her rights as a child, and she went on to study speech therapy at Long Island University and earned a master’s in public health from the University of California, Berkeley.
In the 1970s, she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair.
Her fight for civil rights led to her staging a 24-day sit-in at a San Francisco federal building in 1977, an event which eventually helped pave the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990.
“Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives – job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example,” she told a reporter in 1987.
“It is not a tragedy to me that I’m living in a wheelchair.”
Heumann went on to serve in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 2001 as an assistant secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Education and was appointed special adviser on International Disability Rights by Barack Obama.
Alongside her decades-long activism, she also co-authored her memoir, Being Heumann, and its Young Adult version, Rolling Warrior, and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.
Heumann is survived by her husband, Jorge, and two brothers, Ricky and Joseph.