Remembering Disability Rights Activist Judith Heumann

Monday, March 13, 2023


NDI joins democracy and disability activists around the world in mourning the passing of Judith “Judy” Heumann, a fierce disability and civil rights activist and voice for persons with disabilities across the United States and around the globe. Growing up at a time when persons with disabilities were hidden away in institutions, Judy pioneered what it meant to be a disabled leader - directing disabled persons organizations, serving in the Clinton administration and at the World Bank, and eventually being appointed the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the State Department under President Obama. However, what Judy is most known for was her ability to bring together people of diverse disabilities and identities for cross-movement building and action to pass groundbreaking legislation, including legislation that improved the lives of persons with disabilities across the US. In 1977 at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Judy led over 130 activists during a 26-day sit-in, refusing to leave the building until the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare signed Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibited discrimination of persons with disabilities by the federal government. Their success prompted other forms of protest and collective action across the US, putting disability rights on the map and ultimately leading to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.

Up until her passing, Judy remained active in the disability rights and democracy space, serving as a voice and mentor for persons with disabilities and their allies around the world as they advocated for rights, legislation, and more inclusive and accessible democracies. Her legacy and steadfast leadership will continue to serve as an example of what’s possible as disability activists fight for equitable access, inclusion, dignity and respect.

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