Judy Heumann, disability rights activist, dies at 75 End-shutdown

Judy Heumann, a well-known activist who helped secure legislation protecting the rights of disabled people, has died at the age of 75.

News of his death on Saturday in Washington, DC, was posted on his website and social media accounts and confirmed by his younger brother, Rick Heumann.

He said he had been in hospital for a week and had heart problems that may have been the result of something known as post-polio syndrome, related to a childhood infection that was so severe that he spent several months in an iron lung and lost his mind. Ability to walk at 2 years.

She spent the rest of her life fighting, first for access for herself and then for others, her brother recalled.

“It wasn’t about glory for my sister or anything like that. It was always about how she could make things better for other people,” he said, adding that the family took solace in the tributes pouring in on Twitter from dignitaries and former Presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Heumann has been called the “mother of the disability rights movement” for her longtime advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities through protests and legal action, her website says.

She lobbied for legislation that eventually led to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. She served as Assistant Secretary for the US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, from 1993 in the Clinton administration, until 2001.

Heumann was also involved in the approval of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which was ratified in May 2008.

He helped found the Berkley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability and served on the boards of several related organizations, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Education and Advocacy Fund for the Rights of Disabilities, Humanity and Inclusion and the International Council on Disability of the United States, says its website.

Heumann, who was born in Philadelphia in 1947 and raised in New York City, co-wrote his memoir, “Being Heumann,” and a young adult version titled “Rolling Warrior.”

Her book recounts the struggle her parents, German Jewish immigrants who left before the Holocaust, experienced as they tried to secure a place for their daughter at school. “Children with disabilities were considered an economic and social hardship,” she wrote.

Rick Heumann said his mother, whom he described as a “bulldog,” initially had to homeschool his sister. The experience of fleeing from Nazi Germany left parents and their children passionate.

“We really believe,” he said, “that discrimination is wrong in any way, shape or form.”

Judy Heumann graduated from high school with a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and a master’s degree in public health from the University of California, Berkeley. It was groundbreaking at the time, which shows how much has changed, said Maria Town, president and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

“Today, the expectation for children with disabilities is that we will be included in mainstream education, that we will have the opportunity to go to high school, go to college and get those degrees,” Town said, acknowledging that inequities persist. . “But I think the fact that the main assumption has changed is really important, and I also think that Judy played a big role.”

He was also featured in the 2020 documentary, “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which highlighted Camp Jened, a summer camp Heumann attended that helped jump-start the disability rights movement. The film was nominated for an Academy Award.

During the 1970s, she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and became the first teacher in the state who could work while using a wheelchair, which the board had tried to claim posed a fire hazard.

He was also a leader in a historic, nonviolent occupation of a San Francisco federal building in 1977 that laid the groundwork for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became law in 1990.

Town, who has cerebral palsy, said Heumann was the one who suggested she use a mobility scooter to make it easier to get around. She wasn’t ready to hear it at first after a lifetime of being told that she had to look less handicapped. Eventually though, she decided to give it a try.

“And it literally changed my life,” Town said. “And that was part of what Judy did. It really helped people accept who they were as disabled people and take pride in that identity. And it helped many people understand their own power as disabled people.”

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