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Judy Heumann Leaves Legacy of Disability Rights Activism

Mar 6, 2023 |

The Amputee Coalition joins millions of people around the world in mourning the loss of “the mother of disability rights.” 

Judy Heumann, 75, died Saturday in Washington, DC. She was an activist who organized demonstrations and fought for legislation to help people with disabilities, and she served two presidential administrations. 

“Throughout her life, Judy was an inspiration to me and countless others,” John Register, executive board chair of the Amputee Coalition, posted on social media. “She always told me to stay the course and keep fighting for those who do not have a voice. 

“I will miss her deeply, but I am comforted by the knowledge that her legacy will live on through the many lives she touched.” 

Judy was a vital part of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, and the creation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.  

She was assistant secretary in the office of special education during the presidency of Bill Clinton, and she was appointed the first special adviser for international disability rights at the U.S. Department of State by Barack Obama.  

Actress Marlee Matlin posted on Twitter: “Judith Heumann was a fearless champion for the rights of people with disabilities in our nation and around the world, and millions of people who have faced barriers owe her a debt of gratitude. I will always remember her as my hero and my friend.” 

Judy was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1947 and contracted polio in 1949. She used a wheelchair. 

When she was 5, she was denied entry into school and called a fire hazard. She went on to become the first teacher in New York state to use a wheelchair, but she had to sue the state to do it after being failed on a medical exam. 

“Judy Heumann fought tirelessly for the dignity and self-determination of all people. A lifelong disability rights activist, she paved the way for so many, and the world is a better place because of her,” Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted.