ANCOR News - 03.05.23

ANCOR Mourns the Loss of Disability Civil Rights Legend Judy Heumann

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ANCOR was heartbroken to learn Saturday of the passing of Judith “Judy” Heumann, an iconic leader of the disability civil rights movement. She was 75.

For members of the disability community, Judy Heumann needs no introduction. A legend in the movement to promote community living for people with disabilities, her 1970 lawsuit against the New York City Board of Education over its refusal to issue her a teaching license has often been cited as the genesis of her activism. In 1977, Heumann’s name became synonymous with the disability rights movement when her leadership of a month-long sit-in of people with disabilities at a federal building in San Francisco led to the codification of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Seven years later, she went on to co-found the World Institute on Disability.

More recently, Heumann was a champion of disability civil rights at the national level. For the duration of the Clinton Administration, she served as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education & Rehabilitation Services at the U.S. Department of Education. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to become the inaugural Special Advisor on International Disability Rights for the State Department. Most recently, she worked as a Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, advancing the disability inclusion portfolio of one of the nation’s premier philanthropic institutions.

It’s not hard to imagine that many of the civil rights enjoyed by people with disabilities in this country would not be upheld today if not for Heumann’s unrelenting activism. The civil protections for which she advocated have shaped the very principles upon which ANCOR members carry out their work, and she leaves behind a legacy that has touched all of us in some way.

As we mourn the loss of an icon, we hold in our hearts Heumann’s family, friends, and the thousands of people she inspired in her lifetime. And, perhaps above all else, we hope that her memory continues to serve as a call to action for the unfinished work of disability inclusion in the United States.