Disability Rights Activist & Leader Judith Heumann Passes Away.

Judith “Judy” Heumann was a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people. She was widely regarded as “the mother” of the disability rights movement; however, she passed away in Washington, D.C. on March 4, 2023.

Growing Up 

Judith contracted polio in 1949 and had to use a wheelchair for mobility, but at age five, she was denied the right to attend school because she was considered a “fire hazard.” When Judith attempted to get her teaching license, she was denied even though she passed her oral and written exams because she failed her medical exam. As a result Judith sued the Board of Education and became the first wheelchair user to become a teacher in New York. 

Involvement In Presidency & Legislation 

From 1993 to 2001, Judith served in the Clinton Administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education. During his presidency, President Obama appointed Judith as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights in the U.S. Department of State, where she served from 2010-2017. Mayor Fenty of D.C. appointed her as the first Director of the Department of Disability Services, where she was responsible for the Developmental Disability Administration and the Rehabilitation Services Administration. 

Judith also contributed to developing and implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All these implications lead to the inclusion of disabled people worldwide and fighting to end discrimination against people with disabilities.


  • Judith is featured in Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, the 2020 award-winning, Oscar-nominated documentary film directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham.
  • She has been featured in numerous other documentaries on the history of the disability rights movement, including Lives Worth Living and the Power of 504.
  • In 2020, Judith was featured on the Trevor Noah show.
  • Judith delivered a TED talk in 2016, “Our Fight for Disability Rights- and Why We’re Not Done Yet.
  • She produced and hosted a Signal Award Winning podcast called The Heumann Perspective.

Judith’s effort to improve the life of disabled people has paid off, and she will forever be remembered as the mother of disability rights.