Judy Heumann, a renowned activist who helped secure legislation protecting the
rights of disabled people, has died at age 75
Heumann, who lost her ability to walk at age 2 after contracting polio, has been
called the “mother of the disability rights movement” for her longtime advocacy on
behalf of disabled people through protests and legal action, her website says.
She lobbied for legislation that eventually 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
Rehabilitation 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.
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She 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 Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion and the
United States International Council on Disability, her website says.
Heumann, who was born in Philadelphia in 1947 in Philadelphia 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 experienced while trying to secure a place
for their daughter in school. “Kids with disabilities were considered a hardship,
economically and socially,” she wrote.
She 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 the University of
She also was featured in the 2020 documentary film, “ Crip Camp: A Disability
Revolution,” which highlighted Camp Jened, a summer camp Heumann attended that
helped spark the disability rights movement. The film was nominated for an Academy
During the 1970s she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and
became the first teacher in the state who was able 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 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.