Judy Heumann

Disability Advocate


Judy Heumann

Judith (Judy) Heumann is a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people. She contracted polio in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York and was denied the right to attend school because she was a “fire hazard” at the age of five. Her parents played a strong role in fighting for her rights as a child, but Judy soon determined that she, working in collaboration with other disabled people, had to play an advocacy role due to the continuous discrimination.

She is now an internationally recognized leader in the disability rights community. Her memoir, authored with Kristen Joiner, of Being Heumann “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” is coming out through Penguin Random House in February of 2020. She also is a part of a film called Crip Camp which shares the story of disabled teens at camp in the 1970’s and how they helped sparked the disability civil rights movement. She has been featured in numerous documentaries on the history of the disability rights movement and she delivered a TED talk in the spring of 2018. Her story was also told on Comedy Central’s Drunk History in early 2018, in which she was portrayed by Ali Stroker, the first disabled woman to play on Broadway. As a former Senior Fellow at the Ford Foundation, She also currently serves on several non-profit boards and is an Ambassador for Leonard Cheshire based in London.

Judy was a founding member of the Berkeley Center for Independent Living and then served on its Board of Directors from 1973-1993. CIL Berkeley was the first of its kind in the United States and helped to launch the Independent Living Movement both nationally and globally.

In 1982, Judy co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon, a nonprofit that works to fully integrate people with disabilities into the communities around them via research, policy, and consulting efforts.

From 1993 to 2001, Judy served in the Clinton Administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education.

Judy then served as the World Bank’s first Adviser on Disability and Development from 2002 to 2006. In this position, she led the World Bank’s disability work to expand its knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the global conversation.

During his presidency, President Obama appointed Judy as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State, where she served from 2010-2017.  Mayor Fenty of D.C. appointed her as the first Director for the Department on Disability Services, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

She was also responsible for the implementation of legislation at the national level for programs in special education, disability research, vocational rehabilitation and independent living, serving more than 8 million youth and adults with disabilities.

Throughout her life, Judy has traveled on her motorized wheelchair to countries on every continent, in urban and rural communities alike. She has played a role in the development and implementation of major legislation including the IDEA, Section 504, the Americans with Disability Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Judy graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY in 1969 and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. She has received numerous awards including being the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award in recognition of efforts to significantly improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and the Max Starkloff Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council on Independent Living. She has been awarded six honorary doctorates: an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Long Island University (1994), an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from The University of Toledo, Ohio (2004), an Honorary Doctorate of Public Administration from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (2001), an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Brooklyn College (2018), an Honorary Doctorate of Education from Middlebury College (2019), and an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from Rowan University (2019).