by Daniel Parker, RDPFS Intern
Judy Heumann, a well-known activist and champion of disability rights, passed away on March 4, 2023. She is mourned by many in the disability and vision loss communities. Often called the “mother of the disability rights movement,” Heumann contracted polio as a child and was the first student to use a wheelchair in her New York City school, after first being considered a “fire hazard” and denied entry. She is perhaps best known, however, for the 504 sit-in, a nearly month-long occupation of a federal building in San Francisco, after the U.S. Secretary of Health refused to sign regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which forbids discrimination in education on the basis of disability. She also played a pivotal role in developing and implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). A founder of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living, Heumann served as Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the Obama administration, Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton administration, and various positions in other organizations including the World Bank. She also published a memoir and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.” U.S. Access Board Executive Director Sachin Pavithran noted: “‘Not only was Judy a fierce advocate that led the disability rights movement, but she was also a personal friend and mentor to me and many in the disability community. Judy taught us by example to not stop advocating for our rights, to never take no for an answer, and that collectively we could get more accomplished to remove barriers. All her lessons will help us continue her legacy.’” You can read much more about her life and work at the Access Board link above as well as many other obituaries across the web. Her unrelenting determination and perseverance can inspire our own activism for the rights of people with vision loss to lead full, independent lives.