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 Gallaudet University’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, Gallaudet University 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 Gallaudet University 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-’14; Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’96; and Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, also shared their remembrances of Judy, below. Judy Heumann was truly a giant in the disability rights movement. She was the face of disability rights from the time she was denied access to a regular kindergarten class, and throughout her life. It is ironic that Judy is known as “the Mother of the Disability Rights Movement” because her advocacy actually began as a child, alongside her mother. As Assistant Secretary in OSERS from 1993 to 2001, she was the liaison between Gallaudet University and the U.S. Department of Education. We came to know each other well during that time, and I learned from her to be more inclusive in my thinking about disability rights. I also learned that she tutored many other people with disabilities in that way. Judy was a staunch supporter of being true to oneself and expecting others to respect you for who you are. She frequently told me that she was not comfortable with people telling her what a hero she was and how many lives she had changed. She would tell me that all she had done was not allow others to dictate who she was and what she could do. The disability community in America and around the world has lost one of our most important leaders and I have lost a dear friend. She will surely be missed. Dr. I. King Jordan, ’70 & H-’14President, 1988-2006 I was already a good friend of Judy Heumann when I was appointed as Assistant Secretary , and our friendship continued throughout my tenure. I supported her when she succeeded me in this role in 1993, during the Clinton administration. She was a great friend, and we were always ready to support each other. She will be missed. Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 & H-’96President, 2007-2009 I first met Judy when we both served on the executive board of the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities in the 1970s. I was impressed when she started to sign fluently with me and made me feel welcome on the board with other wonderful leaders of the disability movement. I continued to engage with Judy when she became Assistant Secretary for OSERS. In my view, Judy was a champion in her own way. Her legacy was removing barriers to enable people with disabilities of all ages to grow and prosper into successful and self-sufficient citizens. I will always cherish her friendship and humanity as an effective leader of the disability movement, impacting everyone, including Deaf people and the Deaf community. Dr. T. Alan HurwitzPresident, 2010-2015 “The world has lost a mensch of the highest order with the passing of Judy Heumann. She was a leader of the highest caliber, a supreme advocate for the rights of differently-abled people of this universe, an exemplar for how to live a life to its fullest without any limitations, and one of the world’s greatest humanitarians. Personally, I have lost a long-standing friend of almost 50 years. We first met at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley and discussed common goals for our rights as differently-abled individuals – in ASL! Although our contacts were infrequent over the years, they were meaningful and memorable. I will miss her presence, but not her spirit.” Dr. Stephen F. Weiner, ’78 & G-’80Retired professor and provost I have much respect and admiration for Judy Heumann. She was truly a "fearless leader." Without her, the disability rights movement would not have been as successful. I had the pleasure of being in her presence and interacting with her. I will always remember her warmth, friendliness, and kindness. On behalf of Gallaudet University, we thank Judy for her remarkable contributions that helped enhance the lives of Americans with disabilities. Dr. Glenn B. Anderson, '68 & H-'17Chair, Gallaudet University Board of Trustees Previous Next 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 livestreamed 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 American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the World Institute on Disability, or any charitable organization of your choice. Gallaudet University joins the nation and the world in mourning Judy’s passing, and in thanking her for her lifetime of dedicated service.