March is Women's History Month, a time to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women throughout history.
It is also a time to recognize the unique challenges faced by women, including those with disabilities.
This week, we learned of the sad passing of Judith Heumann, one of the world’s most recognized disability advocates.
At the age of two, Judith contracted Polio and lost the ability to walk. When Judith attempted to start kindergarten, the principal physically blocked the family from entering the school, calling Heumann a “fire hazard.” Luckily, Judith’s mother fought for her daughter’s right to an education. Judith went on to graduate with a BA in 1969.
In the 1970’s, after battling the New York Board of Education, Judith became the first teacher in the state to use a wheelchair. Later in her career, she helped establish the Independent Living movement.
Judith also worked for the Clinton Administration and served as Assistant Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama. She worked for the World Bank and the State Department.
As she said,
When I was in the State Department, I took the bus to work every day, I traveled around the world, and I demonstrated what is possible. I think that sent an important message: Don’t assume my life is a tragedy or that disabled people have nothing to contribute. We are leaders, fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons, we are capable voters and contributors, and we are not invisible.
Judith also played a important role in the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 2020, Judith was the star of a documentary, “Crip Camp” and also published a memoir, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist.
Judith passed away on March 4, 2023. Armando A. Contreras (the President and CEO of the United Cerebral Palsy National organization) writes,
Our nation has lost one of its greatest champions in the fight for the civil and human rights of people with disabilities… Ms. Heumann lived life fully, fearlessly and zealously advocating to change society’s systemic social and physical barriers against people with disabilities. Her life’s work helped reshape and elevate the world’s view of what a person with a disability can achieve.