NCLEJ Mourns the Passing of Judy Heumann

“Some people say that what I did changed the world… But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.” — Judy Heumann

We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of disability activist Judy Heumann, “the mother” of the disability rights movement. Judy was an exceptional advocate for the rights of disabled people in the United States and throughout the world. In her lifetime, Judy was one of the founders of the independent living movement and played a key role in the passage and enforcement of the Rehabilitation Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Judy was a trailblazer and leader throughout her career. She was the first teacher who used a wheelchair in New York State. She went on to serve as D.C.’s first Director for the Department on Disability Services, the first Advisor on Disability Development at the World Bank, and the first Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department.

Her advocacy paved the way for multiple pieces of critical federal legislation articulating the rights of disabled people and the obligations that different governments and agencies have to them. She later worked for the Clinton and Obama administrations to help shape the vision for governments recognizing and serving the needs of disabled people.

Judy’s lifetime of advocacy shaped the disability rights legislation that we enforce. So much of the work we do on disability rights today would not be possible without Judy’s decades of stalwart activism and vision. Let us honor her enduring legacy by continuing to fight for the rights, benefits, and dignity of disabled people everywhere.