RIP Judy Heuman
My Story – Wendy Diamond
RIP my HERo – Judy Heumann – The world has lost a true trailblazer with the passing of disability rights activist Judy Heumann on March 4, 2023, at the age of 75. Her legacy will undoubtedly continue to inspire generations to come.
Personally, I will always remember Judy as my HERo. During the COVID lockdown, I immersed myself in 100’s of movies and stumbled upon a little gem of a movie called Crip Camp. At first, I thought it was about gang activity (the Crips), but the Rotten Tomatoes rating of above 90% piqued my interest, and I decided to give it a watch. Little did I know that this film would change my life forever.
Crip Camp took me on an emotional journey, and I was introduced to the history of our country through the eyes of disabled individuals who fought for their rights. I laughed, I cried, and I learned so much. Most importantly, I was inspired to take action.
After watching Crip Camp, I was so moved by the star Judy Heumann’s story that I felt compelled to meet her in person. So, let’s say, I went to great lengths to track her down LOL, and my persistence paid off. I finally had the privilege of speaking with her. She had overcome countless obstacles to become a beacon of hope for millions. Meeting her was a dream come true, and I was honored to spend time with such an incredible soul.
Our connection led me to create the premier Women in Disability Startup Cohort, an initiative that supports disabled women in becoming entrepreneurs. Thanks to the support of Google for Startups, this idea has now funded thousands of entrepreneurs and is making a significant impact.
In 2013, I founded the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization with a mission to Celebrate, Empower, and Support Women Entrepreneurs. At that time, women’s empowerment was not a topic that received much attention in the media, nor did many companies have programs dedicated to supporting women. Through our organization, we have been able to recognize and honor women who are making a positive difference in the world and inspire future generations to pursue their dreams.
One of the most memorable moments in the history of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization was the ceremony at the United Nations where we honored Judy Heumann with the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Human Rights Pioneer Award, we also presented her with the Lalela Award. This award was created by a student from the Lalela Project, a program that provides arts education to impoverished children in South Africa. As part of the Lalela Project, Judy had answered the Heart Map questions, which are a series of prompts designed to help individuals reflect on their personal journey and experiences. Through her heartfelt responses, Judy provided inspiration and hope to young students who are facing significant challenges. The Lalela Award serves as a symbol of the transformative power of education and the resilience of the human spirit.
Judy’s tireless advocacy for disability rights has inspired millions of people around the world and has changed the lives of countless individuals. By recognizing women like Judy, we inspire future generations to fight for what they believe in and work towards a brighter future for all.
Her official story…
Judy Heumann – From a young age, Judy Heumann had to fight against stigma and exclusion after contracting polio in 1949. At age 5 in Brooklyn, New York, she was denied the chance to go to her local school because her inability to walk was deemed “a fire hazard.” Despite her mother’s challenge of the decision, Heumann was given home instruction twice a week, for less than two hours in total. She was eventually allowed to go to a “special” segregated school for children with disabilities, but following mounting parental pressure, the school system reversed its policy and Heumann joined the local mainstream high school in 1961.
As a young adult, Heumann was denied her teaching license despite passing her oral and written exams in New York State, on account of concerns that she would not be able to assist children in an emergency. She sued the Board of Education and went on to become the first wheelchair user to become a teacher in the state of New York.
In April 1977, Heumann led a 28-day sit-in, the longest in a federal building, to protest the refusal of the US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare to sign long-delayed regulations for Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which fought against discrimination and exclusion of people with disabilities. This effort was not only successful in pressuring the government to adopt the regulations, it also brought together diverse members of the disability community and allies.
Heumann’s activism was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated 2020 documentary “Crip Camp” about young people who spent their summer holidays at Camp Jened in upstate New York. As Heumann said, “I wanna see feisty disabled people change the world.”
Heumann is considered the founder of the Independent Living Movement and played a key role in advancing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. She was also instrumental in ensuring that people with disabilities benefited from international development assistance. She served as the World Bank’s first advisor on disability and development, and was appointed by President Barack Obama as the US State Department’s inaugural senior advisor on international disability rights. She served as a senior fellow at the Ford Foundation from 2017 to 2019.
In 2022, Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization honored Judy Heumann with the Human Rights Pioneer Award for her lifetime achievements in advocating for disability rights. Wendy Diamond, the founder of the organization, stated, “Judy Heumann was a true pioneer and leader in the fight for disability rights. Her tireless advocacy and work paved the way for countless others, and we are honored to recognize her with this award.”
In April 2022, the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization presented Heumann with the Lalela Award, created by an impoverished girl student from a program in South Africa. Heumann answered the Heart Map questions as part of the award presentation.
Heumann’s passing on March 4, 2023, at the age of 75, was a great loss to the disability community and the broader human rights movement. In honor of her passing, Wendy Diamond expressed her condolences and deep appreciation for Heumann’s contributions, stating, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Judy Heumann. Her lifelong dedication to disability rights and social justice was an inspiration to us all. Her leadership and tireless advocacy changed the lives of millions of people around the world. We will miss her greatly, but her legacy will live on, and we are honored to have had the opportunity to recognize her lifetime achievements.”
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