Hall of Fame: Judith Heumann

Hall of Fame: Judith Heumann

ENIL is delighted to induct Judith E. “Judy” Heumann into the ENIL Hall of Fame. Thanks to some of her initiatives, activities and devotion many disabled people are able to prosper from Independent Living.

Judith E. “Judy” Heumann, (born 1947) is an American disability rights activist. She is internationally recognized as a leader of the disability community. Heumann has been a lifelong civil rights advocate for disabled people. Her work with governments and NGOs since the 1970s has contributed greatly to the development of human rights legislation and policy benefiting disabled people. Her work in the World Bank and the US State Department, has led to mainstreaming of disability rights into international development cooperation.Judy has contributed greatly to the extension of the international reach of the independent living movement.

Heumann’s commitment to disability rights stems from her personal experience and from having polio at the age of eighteen months.  She has used a wheelchair most of her life. One of Heumann’s first struggles was to be included in the educational system. She had to fight for her diploma as a decision was made to not allow her to graduate as she had not participated in gym classes. She went against this decision. She was also denied access to her graduation as a teacher considered she would be a fire hazard. Judy organized rallies and protests while attending the university with other disabled students.  She fought for her teaching degree and this was taken to court. As a result of this, Heumann became the first wheelchair user to teach in New York City.

In 1970, Heumann and her friends founded Disabled in Action, an organization that focused on securing the protection of disabled peoples civil rights. Through her work as a legislative assistant to the chairperson of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in 1974 she helped develop the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She moved to Berkeley where she served as Deputy Director of the Center for Independent Living. She organized the sit-ins at the U.S. Department of Health Education and Welfare offices in San Francisco resulting the signing of the Rehabilitation Act’s Section 504 regulations. Heumann co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon in 1983 and served as Co-Director until 1993.

Heumann served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the US Department of Education from 1993 to 2001. From 2002 to 2006 she served as the World Bank Group’s first Advisor on Disability and Development. This work led the World Bank’s to expand its knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on mainstreaming disability. Judy was the lead consultant to the Global Partnership for Disability and Development and the Director of the Department of Disability Services for the District of Columbia until 2010 when she became the Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the US State Department under President Barack Obama.

Judith Heumann was one of the key speakers at this year’s Strasbourg Freedom Drive. Although she was unfortunately not able to be there in person, she spoke at the first Session on the Future of Independent Living at the Freedom Drive conference via skype. She had a message for all of the people who attended the conference. In a rousing speech she outlined that all disabled people throughout the world face the same type of discrimination and that the Independent Living Movement is an opportunity for all people with different experiences to come together. She emphasised the importance of all people coming together as a collective to collaborate and advance our movement and the importance of working with all levels of governments both local and national level. She focused on the importance of young people participating in the Independent Living movement and of knowing their rights. She also argued that this began with disabled children being educated with non-disabled children in order to have the same opportunities. One  of her key points was that the UN CRPD shows a commitment to removing barriers but there was still much more work that needs to be done to fully remove all barriers in order for everyone to have equal opportunities.

In honor of Judith Heumann’s outstanding achievements, one of the t-shirts at this year’s Freedom Drive featured a picture of Judith which many people wore on the Freedom Drive march to the European Parliament.

Judith’s work has played a key role in the development of the Independent Living movement and will undoubtedly continue to do so into the future.

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