Tribute to Judy Heumann: A Lifelong Disability Rights Advocate

Gabriel Ryan, School Health Blog Writer and Contributor 


Tribute to Judy Heumann: A Lifelong Disability Rights Advocate 

This segment is a tribute to an internationally recognized leader in the disability rights community. Judy Heumann was a lifelong disability rights advocate and activist. Judy passed away March 4, 2023. Her legacy will live on as she has inspired people in the United States and around the world to use their voice to make change and ensure access and inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities.

 Photo Resource: Website 2020 The Heumann Perspective


I would like to think that most people have heard of Judy Heumann and her legendary and heroic activism for people with disabilities, however some people are not familiar with this icon. I encourage you to learn more about her life and contributions through the publications shared in this segment. There are many articles written about Judy and her impact, but her website describes her early experience best:

“She contracted polio in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York and began to use a wheelchair for her mobility. She was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a "fire hazard" at the age of five. Later in life, Judy was denied her teaching license after passing her oral and written exams, but being failed on her medical exam. Judy sued the Board of Education and went on to become the first wheelchair user to become a teacher in the state of New York. She has been instrumental in the development and implementation of legislation, such as Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which have been advancing the inclusion of disabled people in the US and around the world and fighting to end discrimination against all those with disabilities.”  -Judith Heumann (


Judy held senior federal government positions serving under two Presidential Administrations. She was appointed by President Clinton to head the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services and was appointed by President Barack Obama as the first Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the U.S. State Department.

To learn more about Judy Heumann and her experiences, several publications highlight her life and life’s work:

  • Judy wrote a memoir published in 2020 called Being Heumann, an Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, which is described through her website highlight in the following way: “a story of fighting to belong in a world that wasn’t built for all of us and of one woman’s activism—from the streets of Brooklyn and San Francisco to inside the halls of Washington—Being Heumann recounts Judy Heumann’s lifelong battle to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society.” 
  • She also created a young readers edition titled, Rolling Warrior: The Incredible, Sometimes Awkward, True Story of a Rebel Girl on Wheels Who Helped Spark a Revolution.
  • Award-winning documentary, Crip Camp is the story of a summer camp for disabled youth and captures one moment in time, Judy Heumann recounts experiences as a summer counselor at Camp Jened.
  • The Heumann Perspective is a podcast with Judy Heumann, where she highlights conversation with disabled changemakers and their allies around disability culture, art, entertainment, policy and advocacy.

Having the opportunity to listen to Judy on many occasions through conferences and interviews has always been uplifting for me, especially as a person with a disability. Her advocacy for disability rights, accessibility, and inclusion had a direct impact in paving the way for me and many others with disabilities around education, transportation, employment, and essential services. I’m grateful she shared her experience with the world. It’s not always easy to be seen and heard with so many competing priorities for focus, funding, and large-scale change efforts. Access and inclusion are everyone’s responsibility. Challenge yourself to take time to think about the ways you can expand access and inclusion in your work and community!

“Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen, and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.” ― Judith Heumann


Additional Judy Heumann Tributes:


Posted in Access Angle Segment