Key Player in Disability Rights Movement
Judy Heumann (b. 1947) has had a hand in most of the major advances in the disability rights movement in this country.
At eighteen months she contracted polio, leaving her in a wheelchair. Heumann faced many prejudices while growing up disabled. The school refused to allow her to attend, calling her a fire hazard. It wasn’t until the fourth grade, after Heumann’s mother had fought a hard battle, that she was allowed to go to school.
Heumann’s early struggles prepared her for bigger ones ahead. When the New York City Board of Education refused to allow her to teach, based solely on the fact that she was disabled, Heumann sued and won. She went on to teach elementary school for three years. It was due to this incident that in 1970 Heumann, with several other disabled friends, founded Disabled in Action. Its goal was to secure protection for the disabled under civil rights laws.
Heumann became a legislative assistant to the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare in 1974. While there she helped develop legislation that became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Along with her colleagues, Ed Roberts and Joan Leon, Heumann helped create and develop the first public policy research think tank devoted to disability issues, known as the World Institute on Disability. She also shaped and co-directed the nation’s first Center on Independent Living in Berkeley, California.
In 1990 Heumann helped draft the landmark piece of legislation, The Americans with Disabilities Act. She has also assisted in developing regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. She helped design federal and state legislation that led to the creation of more than 200 independent living centers nationwide. She is also the co-founder of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities.
Today Heumann is head of her own consulting firm, Heumann & Associates.