You are here

In Praise of Disability Rights Activist Judy Heumann

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The disability rights movement has lost an amazing activist and teacher in Judy Heumann, who died recently at the age of 75.

Heumann was born in New York, the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She contracted Polio at 18 months and used a wheelchair for the rest of her life. When she was 5 and her parents went to register her for kindergarten, they were turned away because the district claimed that Heumann would be a “fire hazard.” Her parents fought the school board in court, and won.

After college, Heumann became a licensed school speech pathologist, but was barred from employment because again the school district claimed her mere presence was a fire hazard. She sued and won, becoming the first wheelchair user teaching in New York. She was prolific and heavily involved in almost every important piece of federal disability rights legislation, including the passage of Section 504, and the ADA. She was a beloved teacher and speaker, and was featured in the 2020 award-winning documentary Crip Camp. Her work and her spirit will live on through the next generation of activists and through the improvements in the lives of so many of the people we in public education and libraries serve. May her memory be for a blessing. 

Resources for learning and teaching about Judy Heumann: