Billion Strong, a global disability rights organization, is deeply saddened by the passing of Judy Heumann, a trailblazer and leading figure in the disability rights movement. Judy passed away on March 4, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Judy Heumann was a passionate advocate for the inherent dignity of people with disabilities. Her tireless efforts and fierce determination led to landmark achievements, including the Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her legacy will forever be an inspiration to disability rights activists and advocates worldwide.
Born in Philadelphia in 1947, Judy contracted polio at the age of two, which left her wheelchair-bound. Despite the challenges she faced, Judy’s parents fought for her right to attend school, and she went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree from Long Island University and a Master’s degree in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley.
Judy’s fight for disability rights began in the 1970s, where she attended Camp Jened, a summer camp for people with disabilities. She later returned to the camp as a counselor and found several leaders of the disability rights movement there. During the same decade, the New York Board of Education denied her a teaching license because of her disability, but she sued and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair.
Judy’s activism continued, and she played a vital role in developing and implementing national disability rights legislation, including Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She also founded multiple disability advocacy organizations, including the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, the Independent Living Movement, and the World Institute on Disability.
Judy’s advocacy work also extended to the federal government. She served as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration. She worked as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department during the Obama Administration.
“Her legacy will continue to inspire the next generation of disability rights activists to fight for a more just and equitable society. We extend our deepest condolences to Judy’s husband, Jorge Pineda, and their entire family.”LaMondre Pough Billion Strong CEO
Judy Heumann will be remembered as a champion for disability rights and a trailblazer who paved the way for generations of disability rights activists. Her spirit and dedication to the fight for disability rights will continue to live on.