Recently, the disability community, the Jewish community, the United States and the world suffered a devastating loss when we learned that Judy Heumann Z”L, the “mother of the disability rights movement” passed away. Below please read some thoughts I’d like to share regarding this remarkable individual.
In every social action movement, there is a person that truly defines the cause. For civil rights, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. defined the movement. Female suffrage and equality saw the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton while the struggle for LGBT+ equality was spearheaded by the likes of Harvey Milk. For the disability community, one of these leaders was clearly Judy Heumann Z”L.
Physical Disability and Neurodiversity can seem diametrically different on paper but we face similar challenges. Just like those with a physical disability, those who are neurodiverse can face hurdles to be fully included, accepted and accommodated by society. Additionally, Neurodiverse people and those with disabilities benefit from laws and initiatives that were passed after pressure from activists such as Judy. Her action led to access to life-altering IEPs and federal protections under the Americans with Disabilities act.
I never got to meet Judy in person but I got close. Last year, Judy and I received separate awards at MATAN’s annual event and fundraiser. While she was not there in person we did get to see her over zoom. She spoke eloquently about her experience as a disabled American. It is truly heartwarming to see the shifts that have occurred over Judy’s life. The America she will be buried in will be more accessible, equitable and inclusive than the one she entered; due in no small part to her own accomplishments.
Everyone should take a moment to acknowledge the work that Judy has done. To remember her, I highly encourage reading Being Heumann or watching Crip Camp. An era is ending. We must follow Judy’s example and continue to fight for change. Her legacy can be honored by continuing to fight for her cause. May this next generation of disability, neurodiversity and social action leaders leave a better place just like Judy did.