Heumann’s advocacy spirit was ignited by her parents, who fought for her access to quality education. That spirit became her advocacy voice as she gained awareness of the greater disabled experience alongside other young adults with disabilities while spending summers at Camp Jened. The 2020 Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp features Camp Jened campers, Heumann and other campers who she would work alongside as disability rights activists throughout her life.
Heumann spoke out against discrimination and exclusion when she was once again deemed a fire hazard when she applied for a teaching position with the New York City Board of Education. The court ruled in her favor, and she became the first teacher in the state of New York who was a wheelchair user.
Heumann’s fights led to wins for many others besides herself. She spoke out against injustices in access to employment, education, and community living and was not afraid to put her voice and body on the line to make change happen. Her domestic disability rights policy work on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 work on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and internationally in her work with the World Bank and the US State Department changed how others viewed people with disabilities and drafted a policy that impacted their lives.
Her legacy lives on in global disability policy and in the hearts of those who knew and knew of her. Members of Georgia’s disability community shared their memories of Heumann and what she meant to them.
Kayla Rodriguez, Former Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD) Intern and Disability Advocate
Judy Heumman was the definition of a trailblazer. She was often called the mother of the disability rights movement and for a good reason. She and many others created the disability rights movement as we know it today, and the movement wouldn’t have been the same without her contributions. I was lucky to meet Judy back in October 2019 when I was an intern for GCDD. Judy will surely be missed, and we will continue the disability rights movement in her honor.
Brittany Curry Graphic Facilitator and owner of Inky Brittany
She made people listen to the ones who were usually skipped over and never counted, the ones who were usually dismissed, and whose voices were not seen as very important. Judy made it known that everyone’s voice and contribution is important, in the smallest and largest of ways. And how much better the world is when we slow down to take the time to count each one. She laid the bricks we are walking and rolling on today, and her impact will forever be present.
I created this of Judy on her birthday in 2020.
Carol Britton Laws, Associate Clinical Professor; Destination Dawgs Inclusive Education at UGA, Director
Judy came to speak to my Disability Issues in Childhood and Adolescence class in October 2019. One of my students noted:
“Her talk made me realize how much one person can make a difference in our society. If it was not for Judy’s story and her constant fight for her own rights and the rights of others, we would not have a lot of the legislation that solidifies the rights of those with disabilities that we have today. This will encourage me in the future to make impacts where I can and continue to fight for the rights of those around me and that even though I am only one person, I can still make a positive change in our society.”
Susanna Miller-Raines, Program Manager Think College
I was one of Judy’s drivers when she was in Georgia for the Georgia Disability History Symposium in 2019. After an incredible day listening to her and other Georgia disability leaders speak, we went to dinner across the street from the hotel with renowned disability advocate and former advocacy director at the Shepherd Center, Mark Johnson. He and Judy were old friends, and being invited to dinner and conversation with old friends was a privilege. The dynamic was different, unlike normal national keynotes or consultant dinners. I got to see the human side of Judy Heumann and it is something I will cherish forever. We finished the evening with Mark and Judy racing their wheelchairs down the road in Athens, GA, a moment I will always look back on with fondness. The best part of those two days was going to a Social Work class at UGA and watching Drunk History- “Judy Heumann Fights for People with Disabilities” WITH Judy Heumann herself!
Gillian Grable, Institute on Human Development and Disability
In 2019 when I had the privilege of inviting Judy to be the keynote speaker at the 5th Annual Disability History Symposium at UGA I had no idea the enormous impact meeting Judy would make on myself, my colleagues, students at UGA, and the Symposium participants.
Judy invigorated us all; she urged us to vigorously challenge any devalued perception and barrier confronting people with disabilities. Judy engaged people by “making a fuss”. One of my younger colleagues who saw video footage of Judy that I had prepared for our staff meeting said,” Judy showed me that using your voice is the most powerful force. She was a trailblazer who motivated me to do more to help others find their voice.”
I will remember her always – Judy’s legacy lives on for the next generations. Like the late Senator John Lewis, she encouraged us all to get into good trouble.
Darien Todd, Community Advocate Specialist at CLD
In 2019 Judy Heumann was the keynote speaker at a conference where I was a panelist. I’d never met her before, but everyone’s eyes were on her when she entered the room. She had energy, and everyone was pulled in by it. I wanted to know who she was and how so many people admired and respected her. I am lucky to have been able to be in her presence. As a disability rights advocate, she has inspired me to keep doing the work and it was a day I’ll never forget.
I met Judy Heumann in Washington, D.C. I was part of a program called JAA – Jewish Abilities Alliance. Several of us had gone to Washington, D.C to Lobby and speak with our Legislators. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet her. She did so much in her life that she should be proud of.
I also admired Judy for her courage, self-esteem and for not giving up in life. Judy faced many hardships in her life, but she was a fighter! Judy and I were alike in many ways. I have overcome a lot in my life and advocate for myself and others who need it. Judy is a true hero and an inspiration to me. I am a very determined person, just like Judy was. I don’t give up too easily. I attended West Georgia Tech and my field of study was Information & Office Technology. I own my condo and have worked at Jewish Family & Career Services for almost 30 years. I am a proud member of a Group called Uniting 4 Change – an advocacy group where I serve on the Leadership Committee.
There is a saying in my Uniting 4 Change group: Rise Up and Speak Out. That’s what Judy did, and that’s what I do.