Judith “Judy” Heumann — widely regarded as “the mother” of the disability rights movement — passed away in Washington, D.C. on the afternoon of March 4, 2023. Judy was at the forefront of major disability rights demonstrations, helped spearhead the passage of disability rights legislation, founded national and international disability advocacy organizations, held senior federal government positions, co-authored her memoir, Being Heumann, and its Young Adult version, Rolling Warrior, and was featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary film, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.
As a disabled woman, I am so lucky and privileged to have lived my whole life thus far in a world with Judy Heumann in it. I have never known a world where I was put in a separate school because of my disability. I have never known a world where I was not allowed to belong and have a presence in public settings and/or public transportation. I have never known a world where I did not have the right to exist.
It is a privilege to be able to fight back in a world where I have rights as a disabled woman. None of those rights would exist without Judy Heumann. It’s appropriate that she had Heumann as her last name — she really took disability and forced the world to see it and us as humans, deserving access to the world. She ignited a fire within our entire community and empowered generations of disabled people.
A world before Judy Heumann saw disability as a negative area of society, something to be ashamed of. But Judy was a powerful woman who knew that we deserved better and used every single day of her life fighting for the rights that we deserve in this world. She encouraged the world to view everything through “a disability lens.” She is the reason disability pride exists, as we found power in our disabled identities, for the first time seeing how change can occur when our community comes together.
Judy was a magnet. She spoke with intention and always made space for anybody in our community to have a voice and be listened to. She not only took the time to talk to every person in our community that she came in contact with, but truly got to know them, gave them meaningful advice, and made them feel like deeply loved and valued members of the community. She spoke to people the same way as the next, regardless of background or where they came from.
Our community is heartbroken and aches with this loss. As Judy always said, “we are not done yet.” We will continue to advocate for our community, advancing disability rights, ensuring equity, and pursuing change in her honor. We will continue to move the needle forward that she carried over mountains for us. We don’t want to know a world without Judy Heumann in it, but she is with us every time we push back against ableism in this world.
This Women’s History Month and Disability Awareness Month, and always, we reflect and honor Judy for her renowned fearlessness, joy, advocacy, and commitment to our community. She spent her life breaking down barriers for our community, and with that, we celebrate the life and legacy of such a powerful leader and disability civil rights icon.