The National Health Law Program (NHeLP) joins others in mourning the loss of Judith (“Judy”) Heumann, fierce disability rights leader, educator and advocate. Heumann passed away on March 4, 2023 in Washington, D.C.
Judy Heumann was born in Philadelphia in 1947, and raised in Brooklyn, New York. A wheelchair user for most of her life, Judy was educated at home and in segregated classrooms until high school. She went on to earn a B.A. from Long Island University and a Master’s in Public Health from U.C. Berkeley. After a battle against the N.Y. Board of Education, which originally refused to grant her a license, Judy became the first teacher in New York to use a wheelchair.
As an advocate, Judy helped lead protests demanding implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Judy served as the Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the Clinton Administration, worked as an Advisor on Disability for the World Bank, and was the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department during the Obama Administration. She also served as Washington D.C.’s first Director for the Department on Disability Services. In these and other roles, Judy was active in developing and implementing the Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Rehabilitation Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
As a child, Judy spent many of her summers at Camp Jened, a camp for children with disabilities, which became the subject of the award-winning film Crip Camp. She also published a memoir, hosted her own podcast, and was active in advocacy at the federal, state, and local level throughout her entire life. She served as a mentor to many disability advocates, including many of us at the National Health Law Program, who have drawn inspiration from her work and helped build a strong community around her.
As NHeLP extends its condolences to Judy’s husband Jorge Pineda and the rest of her family, NHeLP renews its commitment to the steadfast pursuit of health equity for people with disabilities and ensuring that people with disabilities are fully integrated into our communities.