Judith “Judy” Heumann, a lifelong champion for the civil rights of people with disabilities, passed away on March 4. In remembrance of her remarkable life, and in honor of Developmental Disability (DD) Awareness Month, TCDD Public Policy Analyst Lauren Gerken writes on Heumann’s legacy and how we can continue to honor her life’s work.
We’re All Heumann: Honoring a Disability Rights Leader
Judy Heumann’s life and accomplishments are impossible to summarize, but they’re accessible in her memoirs, cataloged in history’s newspapers, and celebrated in an Oscar-nominated documentary. It may seem strange to say that Judy’s life goes far beyond these markers of brilliance, but it does — she does.
Judy was born into a world that didn’t think she had rights. She was born into a world that didn’t think she even needed rights to begin with. As a polio survivor, she wasn’t seen as someone who would benefit from an education alongside non-disabled peers nor was she seen as someone capable of being a teacher. Judy saw herself as that person.
Throughout her memoir, every clip, and every presentation, from the time she was a child to the time she passed away, Judy made it clear to the world that she knew her worth, and the world should know it too. That was enough to exhaust anyone. Those who fight to be seen, heard, and respected in unwelcoming spaces know what it is like to come home at the end of the day sore from just rolling their personal boulder up the hill.
Judy Heumann rolled her own boulder and supported millions of others with theirs. And she did so because she truly believed in the worth and power of the disability community.
For some of us, Judy seemed infinite. It felt like we would have this incredible leader to follow until everyone in the world saw people with disabilities the way Judy did. It can be difficult to imagine fighting for disability rights without her, but as a person with a disability writing this and reflecting on Judy’s impact, I can only say this: We must honor Judy by seeing ourselves the way she saw us and the way she saw herself. You belong. You deserve to be in this world whether it has been designed for you or not. Judy dedicated her life to being an architect of redesign, making the world more inclusive so that others wouldn’t have to work so hard to get their boulder up the hill.
For Judy, for ourselves, and for each other, we roll onward and upward.