Disability rights activist Judith Heumann passed away on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at age 75.
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who is the chair of the People with Disabilities Committee in the NYS Assembly, wrote a moving eulogy paying tribute to Heumann, who was raised in Brooklyn.
“Ms. Heumann was a tireless advocate who refused to accept a life of isolation, segregation and exclusion—the reality faced by many people with disabilities—when she was growing up,” wrote Seawright.
“Her struggle to advance the rights of people with disabilities was pivotal in securing civil rights protections for people with disabilities.”
Heumann, who was wheelchair-bound since childhood after contracting polio, began fighting for the rights of the disabled at an early age. At the age of five, she was told her wheelchair would prevent her from enrolling in school because it presented a fire hazard. After entering into a segregated education program for disabled children, she earned a degree and pursued a career as a teacher, only to be told she could not get a teaching license in New York as a disabled person.
Heumann worked side by side with many other notable activists, including Brad Lomax. Lomax was a member of the Black Panthers who also used a wheelchair.
She went on to work in the Department of Education and the State Department. Her advocacy, along with that of many others, helped pave the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act that became law n 1990.
“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” Heumann wrote. “But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.”
Heumann passed away at her home in Washington, D.C. She is survived by her husband Jorge Pineda, her brother, Ricky, wife Julie and her brother Joseph and wife Mary, her niece Kristin, grand nephew Orion and many other members of both the Heumann and Pineda families.
“Some people say that what I did changed the world. But really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.”