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By Taylordw. Judith Heumann as a panelist at TASH’s Outstanding Leadership in Disability Law Symposium and Awards Dinner, George Washington University’s Marvin Center, July 25, 2019

Judy Heumann – often called the mother of the disability rights movement – was a fierce advocate of civil rights legislation for people with disabilities and a mentor to generations. She died on March 4 at age 75. 

Possibly most famous for leading the longest sit-in in a federal building ever, Heumann spent decades as an advocate for people with disabilities. She campaigned for federal legislation to guarantee equal rights for people with disabilities, including the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, and organized demonstrations across the country. She went on to serve in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Most recently, Heumann’s story was featured in the Netflix documentary, ‘Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.’ 

Heumann was paralyzed at a young age from polio. She grew up in a time when disabled people did not have equal rights and committed her life to changing that. As a kid, she was told she couldn’t go to school because she was a fire hazard. As a young woman, she was also told she could not teach because she used a wheelchair. In 1970, Heumann successfully sued for discrimination and got her teaching license. 

Heumann once told the Washington Post, “Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives — job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example. It is not a tragedy to me that I’m living in a wheelchair.” 

Heumann’s legacy – and long-lasting contributions to disability rights – certainly live on.