By Jill McDonald, Finance Director
Did you ever hear someone speak and feel so moved by their story you immediately felt inspired to do more? The passion that Judy Heumann has for Disability Rights and Independent Living is contagious. When I watched a video of her testimony for the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), I instantly felt the passion and urgency as she spoke. I want to share with you a little history about one of the great advocates of our time.
Judy Heumann acquired her disability when she was 18 months old when she contracted Polio. Judy’s parents fought for her to be able to attend school in New York; at that time children with disabilities were home-boundor institutionalized. As an adult, Judy was told that she couldn't be a teacher because of her disability. This was ludicrous to Judy; she sued the city of New York school system and won. For many, this would have been the end of the story, and it would have been considered a victory. Judy saw something bigger than herself; she saw a problem with how all people with disabilities were treated. She continued to fight for equal rights for people with disabilities. Judy was a part of the sit-ins that led to the authorization of Section 504 of the Rehab Act. She was a leader at the original Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, California with Ed Roberts. She was instrumental in getting the ADA signed, she served under President Clinton as assistant secretary for the Department of Education, and she is the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights for the U.S. Department of State. Her work continues to empower people and educate others about her definition of independent living. Judy said “It’s an issue of respect; Independent living is bringing together voices of disabled people, all disabilities, and bringing those voices to the local, state and national levels. It means bringing support to one another to create our own dreams of how we want to live our own lives,” (Independence Today, 2007).
Judy did not see adversity as something to stop her from achieving her goals. Adversity spurred her to change the system using her story to show others how broken the system was; and offering them solutions and insisting on change.