Photograph courtesy of Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann, a renowned disability advocate who was known as the “mother of the independent living movement,” died on Saturday, March 4 in Washington, D.C. She was 75 years old.

All of 91’s presidents since Dr. Edward C. Merrill, Jr. had the pleasure of knowing and interacting with Judy during her illustrious career, and such was our collective regard for her that her 70th birthday celebration was held on campus, in the National Deaf Life Museum.

Judy Heumann celebrating her 70th birthday at the National Deaf Life Museum with Claudia Gordon, Roberta Cordano, Leah Katz-Hernandez, ’10, and Aarron Loggins, ’08.

President Cordano, upon learning of Judy’s passing, wrote, “Judy Heumann’s influence went well beyond the visible fight for civil and human rights for our disability communities. She tackled the narratives about people with disabilities in the media, helping all of us transform our stories of living with disabilities into stories of possibilities and impact.”

“As importantly, Judy devoted herself as a mentor, friend, and supporter of people with disabilities across multiple generations, influencing our lives and our careers. I count myself as one of the people she brought into the fold of the disability movement, starting when I was in college. Our paths crossed frequently over the past 30-plus years. She taught and supported so many of us to understand the value of this broader disability movement in empowering and strengthening all of our lives as human beings in our communities.”

Judy Heumann, 91 President I. King Jordan, and interpreter Brenda Marshall are shown on their way to the United States Capitol for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by U.S. President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. (photograph courtesy of the 91 Archives)

“Judy is now passing the baton to all of us to continue the work that she and so many others in her generation, including her dearest friend Marca Bristo, began. I can see her signing and speaking to all of us to keep the torch burning, especially with our young future generations, to keep building new narratives and creating a more welcoming and inclusive world for everyone.”

President Cordano’s predecessors, Dr. I. King Jordan, ’70 & G-’14Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’96; and Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, also shared their remembrances of Judy, below.

Judith Ellen Heumann was born on December 18, 1947 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to German immigrants and Holocaust survivors. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York. In 1949, when she was 18 months old, she contracted poliomyelitis, and spent three months in an iron lung, a whole-body mechanical respirator that supports breathing. Her parents had to fight to enroll her in school; one principal claimed that she was a “fire hazard.” For most of her early years, Judy was taught in special classes, often segregated from non-disabled students. She persevered, and earned her bachelor’s degree in speech and theater at Long Island University in 1969. She then fought successfully to be allowed to become a teacher in the New York City school system.

Later, Judy crossed the country and earned her master’s degree in public health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. At Berkeley, she emerged as a force for advocacy for herself and for all people with disabilities. She spearheaded the most publicly visible and truly inclusive protests among different disability groups in a  weeks-long protest in the San Francisco Bay Area during the spring of 1977 at the regional headquarters of the former U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Judy and the broad cross-section of the disability community successfully forced the attention of the federal government to publish regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a watershed moment in our community’s civil rights history. For the first time, people with disabilities had a law with teeth to use to obtain, and more often, fight for, access and accommodations.

Several members of the Gallaudet community were also involved in this protest, in San Francisco, Washington, and elsewhere, including retired professor and provost Stephen F. Weiner, ’78 & G-’80.

Judy founded the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, and later, the World Institute on Disability. She was also a board member of numerous organizations focused on the rights of people with disabilities, including the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Humanity and Inclusion, and the United States International Council on Disability. She also advised several corporations on inclusion.

From 1993 to 2001, Judy was Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the United States Department of Education. From 2002 to 2006, she served as the first Advisor on Disability and Development at the World Bank. From 2010 to 2017, she was the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State. She was the inaugural director of the Department of Disability Services for the District of Columbia.

Judy is survived by her husband, Jorge Pineda, and two brothers, Ricky and Joseph.

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday, March 8 at 10 a.m. Eastern Time at Adas Israel Congregation, 2850 Quebec Street N.W., Washington, D.C. Burial will be at noon at Judean Memorial Gardens, 16225 Batchellors Forest Road, Olney, Maryland. The memorial service and burial will be  on the Adas Israel website.

Following the burial, the family will receive guests at a gathering held at Adas Israel. Shiva will be Thursday, March 9 at Adas Israel Congregation; the time will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the , the , the , or any charitable organization of your choice.

91 joins the nation and the world in mourning Judy’s passing, and in thanking her for her lifetime of dedicated service.

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