Judy Huemann – A Legacy
On this International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the legendary life of Judy Huemann. The disability community – and world - recently lost the iconic disability rights leader on March 4, at age 75.
After contracting polio at an early age, Judy’s drive for more inclusive societies smoldered as she transitioned to using a wheelchair to get around. She felt the discriminatory judgement of ableism very early on as she was considered a fire hazard by school’s twice due to her wheelchair - first as a young student denied entry to learn among her peers and again by a school board which denied her being a teacher for the same ridiculous fire hazard reason. In a story about the issues, a newspaper cleverly titled an article “You Can Be President, Not Teacher, with Polio” referencing President Roosevelt. In an interview for the article Heumann told the reporter: "We're not going to let a hypocritical society give us a token education and then bury us." Suing the state of New York was Judy’s warm up for what she would go on to do throughout her life.
After becoming the first wheelchair using teacher in the state of New York, Judy carried the torch of inclusion to California where she joined forces with a growing number of disability rights advocates. She was involved with getting the Rehabilitation Act legislation passed in 1973 and specifically with getting section 504 enacted to create more inclusive federally offered services. To ensure the government took their concerns with the enforcement of section 504 seriously, Judy and others with disabilities occupied a government office in San Francisco for 25 days with help from all sectors of the community.
Judy would continue her life constantly being a driving force for inclusion and the rights for people with disabilities. Her impact is unmeasurable for the positive changes she helped provide for people around the world. In the end, Judy leaves behind a mark on the world that is so big we can’t help but be in awe of all that she helped accomplish.
Disability Impacted Accomplishments
She lobbied for legislation that eventually led to:
Americans with Disabilities Act
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Rehabilitation Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Served U.S as:
Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services 1993 – 2001
First Advisor on Disability and Development at World Bank ’02-‘06
First Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department 2010 - 2017
She helped found:
The Independent Living Movement
Berkley Center for Independent Living – the 1st CIL
World Institute on Disability
Disability in Action – disability rights protest group
Board Member of:
American Association of People with Disabilities
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Humanity and Inclusion
United States International Council on Disability
Co-Author Two Books:
Being Huemann (2020)
Rolling Warrior (2021)
Featured in Oscar Nominated Movie:
Crip-Camp - 2020
Archived video footage of a summer camp for youth with disabilities that had participants go on to create massive change for people with disabilities all across the country.