Date of this Version
Jaumal of Women in Educational Leadership, Vol. 6, No. 4-October 2008 ISSN: 1541-6224
Judy (Judith E.) Heumann has spent her life as an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. She contracted polio at 18 months old, which caused her lower limbs to become paralyzed. Heumann was not allowed to attend kindergarten at the local public school because she used a wheelchair (Rasky, 1989). From an early age, she learned that discrimination was a natural part of life for a person with a disability (Strohm). She was continually aware of the invisibility of people with disabilities in society. As she explains, "we were not seen as individuals who could make contributions to our society. We were out of sight and out of mind" (Heumann, 2003). Heumann became involved in disability discussions, awareness, and activism at an early age. She met other students with disabilities at the segregated school and segregated summer camp she attended and gained strength by talking with them about their dreams of removing the barriers they faced (Heumann, 2003). She came to believe that attitudes and acts of discrimination are the biggest problems facing people with disabilities. In college, Heumann organized rallies and protests with other students with disabilities (Strohm). She also created organizations with other students with disabilities, which began to have political influence at the local, state, and national levels (Heumann). Through these efforts, people with disabilities were becoming more visible in society. In 1970, Heumann was denied her teaching license because she used a wheelchair and was labeled a fire hazard. With the support of her friends, she set up the organization Disabled in Action. She filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education and with the support of Disabled in Action she won. Heumann became the first wheelchair user to teach in the New York City public school system ("Judith E. Heumann," 1993). Heumann moved to Berkeley, California where she was Deputy Director of the world's first independent living center from 1975-1982. At the Centerfor Independent Living (CIL), she advocated for people with disabilities to have greater opportunities to achieve an independent lifestyle ("Judith E. Heumann," 1993). The CIL was different because it employed people with disabilities as well as providing them with support. Since then, more than 400 independent living centers have been created (Heumann, 2003).