Los Angeles Times

Teacher, disability rights advocate

JUDY HEUMANN, 1947 - 2023

- By Brian P.D. Hannon and Heather Hollingswo­rth Hannon and Hollingswo­rth write for the Associated Press. A Times staff writer contribute­d to this report.

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

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

He said his sister had been in the hospital for a week and had heart issues that may have been the result of post-polio syndrome, related to a childhood infection that was so severe that she spent several months in an iron lung and lost her ability to walk at age 2.

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

“It wasn’t about glory for my sister or anything like that at all. It was always about how could she make things better for other people,” he said, adding that the family drew solace from the tributes that poured in on Twitter from dignitarie­s and past presidents such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Judy Heumann was a trailblaze­r — a rolling warrior — for disability rights in America,” President Biden said in a statement. “After her school principal said she couldn’t enter kindergart­en because she was using a wheelchair, Judy dedicated the rest of her life to fighting for the inherent dignity of people with disabiliti­es.”

Heumann was widely regarded as the “mother of the disability rights movement” for her longtime advocacy on behalf of disabled people through protests and legal action.

She lobbied for legislatio­n that led to the federal Americans With Disabiliti­es Act, Individual­s With Disabiliti­es Education Act and the Rehabilita­tion Act. She served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilita­tive Services, beginning in 1993 in the Clinton administra­tion, until 2001.

Heumann also was involved in passage of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With

Disabiliti­es, which was ratified in May 2008.

She helped found the Berkeley 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 Assn. of People With Disabiliti­es, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion and the United States Internatio­nal Council on Disability, according to her website.

Heumann, who was born in Philadelph­ia in 1947 and raised in New York City, was the co-author of her memoir, “Being Heumann,” and a version for young adults titled, “Rolling Warrior.”

Her book recounts the struggle her parents, German Jewish immigrants who f led Europe before the Holocaust, experience­d while trying to secure a place for their daughter in school.

“Kids with disabiliti­es were considered a hardship, economical­ly and socially,” she wrote.

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

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

Judy Heumann went on to graduate from high school and earn a bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and a master’s degree in public health from UC Berkeley. It was groundbrea­king at the time, which shows just how much has changed, said Maria Town, the president and chief executive of the American Assn. of People With Disabiliti­es.

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

Heumann also was featured in the 2020 documentar­y “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” which highlighte­d Camp Jened, a summer camp she attended that helped spark 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 to work while using a wheelchair, which the board had tried to claim was a fire hazard.

She also was a leader in a historic, nonviolent 28-day occupation of a San Francisco federal building in 1977 that set the stage for passage of the Americans With Disabiliti­es Act, which became law in 1990. The protest is regarded as the longest nonviolent occupation of a federal building in American history.

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 after a lifetime of being told she needed to appear less disabled.

“And it’s literally changed my life,” Town said. “And that was part of what Judy did. She really helped people accept who they were as disabled people and take pride in that identity.”

 ?? Susan Ragan Associated Press ?? ‘ROLLING WARRIOR’ Heumann, 75, was the “mother of the disability rights movement.”
Susan Ragan Associated Press ‘ROLLING WARRIOR’ Heumann, 75, was the “mother of the disability rights movement.”

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