NYLPI Mourns the Passing of Judy Heumann, Disability Justice Trailblazer

March 8, 2023

Disability Justice, Health Justice, News

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest was deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Judy Heumann, a disability justice activist, pioneer, and leader. Her life and work profoundly impacted the disability rights movement and inspired countless individuals to fight for their rights and those of others with disabilities. 

Judy was a trailblazer in many respects, accomplishing many firsts, especially in the education realm. Because Judy was a person with a disability and used a wheelchair, her mother had to demand that Judy have access to a classroom. Judy eventually was able to attend elementary school, high school, Long Island University (from which she earned a B.A. in 1969), and the University of California, Berkeley (where she earned a master’s in public health six years later). During the same decade, the New York Board of Education refused to give Judy a teaching license because they feared she could not help evacuating students or herself in case of fire. She sued and became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair.    

Judy was a tireless advocate for disability rights. In 1977, she led a 28-day sit-in at the San Francisco federal building to protest the government’s failure to implement regulations to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Her efforts were instrumental in developing and implementing various pieces of disability legislation, including Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which remains one of the most significant pieces of legislation for disability rights in the United States. 

In addition, Judy was one of the main subjects of the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp. Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, Crip Camp (available on Netflix) helped to positively change the narrative of what it means to be disabled for the non-disabled community.   

Judy’s passing significantly impacts all people with disabilities, far and wide.  Her work focused primarily on disability rights, and her advocacy and support reached the cross sections of disability, race, gender, and class — groups often marginalized.  

Judy’s passing will be deeply felt by the disability community, many of whom see her as a mentor and inspiration, and a tremendous loss to the rest of the world as well. NYLPI is committed to having Judy’s legacy live on through our tireless advocacy for New Yorkers with disabilities, arming them with the tools to enforce their civil rights. NYLPI honors Judy’s life and commitment to social justice and pledges to continue to fight for disability rights in her memory. 

Rest in power, Judy Heumann. 


Photo by Neha Balachandran (IG: @jeevanportraits)

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