We were sad to hear that Judy Heumann, a leading disability rights activist, passed away recently.
When we started to campaign on digital accessibility we heard about Judy. Her determination and refusal to accept discrimination have motivated and moved us.
Judy Heumann’s life and legacy
Judy worked hard to make our world more inclusive. Her work led to groundbreaking legislation for disability rights in the United States.
“We will no longer allow the government to oppress disabled individuals. We want the law enforced. We want no more segregation. We will accept no more discussion of segregation.” Judy Heumann
Judy caught polio when she was 18 months old. She experienced segregation when her mother enrolled her at a kindergarten school. Judy was not allowed to go to school. The principal believed Judy’s wheelchair was a “fire hazard”.
Judy’s mother challenged the decision. After four years of home instruction, the school allowed Judy into the building. However, she was treated like a “second-class citizen”. Disabled children’s classes were held in the basement. This segregated them from non-disabled children most of the time.
Judy continued to face discrimination when she trained as a teacher. She was subjected to humiliating questioning and denied her teacher’s license. But she kept fighting and sued the New York Board of Education to be able to teach. She won and was the first wheelchair user to become a teacher in New York State.
Judy became known as someone who would fight for disabled rights. She began to make contact with others who had similar experiences of discrimination.
She formed Disabled in Action in 1970. The group was at the forefront of the civil rights movement for disability rights. New legislation was in development in the US. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act would make discrimination against disabled people illegal. President Richard Nixon blocked it.
Judy led disruptive direct-action protests at Nixon’s offices. Throughout her life, Judy showed absolute determination to take action. This included staging a 28-day sit-in. She refused to accept discrimination.
“I wanna see feisty disabled people change the world.”
We’ll remember her as an inspiration and honour her legacy.
We’ve seen many moving tributes to Judy. She has become known as the mother of the disability rights movement. She guided and supported younger generations of activists.
It’s a fitting tribute to her to continue campaigning for disability justice in all areas of life.
Rest in power, Judy Heumann.