Judith Heumann is to the disability rights movement what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was to the civil rights movement and Gloria Steinem is to the feminist movement — namely, a fearless trailblazer who has done nothing less than change the course of history for millions of people in America and around the world.
Indeed, Heumann, who has had to use a wheelchair since contracting polio when she was just 18 months old, has been fighting discrimination against herself and others with disabilities for more than 50 years. She sued to become the first wheelchair user ever to teach in a New York City classroom; helped to organize the first center for independent living; led the 504 sit-in, the longest-ever takeover of a federal building in American history, which forced the signing of regulations to enact section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, paving the way for 1990’s landmark Americans with Disabilities Act; served under Pres. Clinton as an Assistant Secretary in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services and under Pres. Obama as the first-ever Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State; and the list goes on.
Named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential women of the past century, Heumann recently authored, with Kristen Joiner, the memoir Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist, and she also appears in James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham‘s Oscar-nominated documentary feature Crip Camp, which shows how the disability movement grew out of a summer camp in Hunter, New York.
During a recent episode of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Awards Chatter podcast, the 73-year-old reflected on how polio shaped her childhood and her desire to challenge injustices; how her time as a camper and a counselor at Camp Jened helped her to find a community of people facing similar challenges, and to become a leader; what led her to transition from teaching to activism, and some of the biggest challenges have been that she has faced along the way; and much more.
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You can listen to the episode here. The article continues below.
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