Judith Heumann

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Judith Heumann
Special Advisor for International Disability Rights
Assumed office
June 7, 2010
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Position established
Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
In office
June 1993 – January 20, 2001
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Robert Davila
Succeeded by Robert Pasternack
Personal details
Born 1947 (age 67–68)
Alma mater Long Island University
University of California, Berkeley

Judith E. "Judy" Heumann (born 1947) is an American disability rights activist. An internationally recognized leader in the disability community, Heumann is a lifelong civil rights advocate for people with disabilities. Her work with governments and non governmental organizations (NGOs) has produced significant contributions since the 1970s to the development of human rights legislation and policies benefiting children and adults with disabilities. Through her work in the World Bank and the State Department, Heumann led the mainstreaming of disability rights into international development. Her contributions extended the international reach of the independent living movement.[1]


Heumann's commitment to disability rights stems from her personal experiences. She had polio at the age of 18 months, and has used a wheelchair most of her life. Heumann had to fight repeatedly to be included in the educational system. The local public school refused to allow her to attend, calling her a fire hazard. Heumann's mother, a community activist in her own right, challenged the decision, and Judy was allowed to go to school in the fourth grade. Judy Heumann began taking major steps toward rights for people with disabilities in college, organizing rallies and protests with other students with disabilities. When she got out of school and was denied her New York teaching license because the board did not believe she could get herself or her students out of the building in case of a fire, she took the case to court. After the judge recommended that New York City’s Board of Education rethink its decision, Heumann became the first person in a wheelchair to teach in New York City[2][3] and taught elementary school there for three years.[4]

In 1970 Heumann and several friends with disabilities founded Disabled in Action, an organization that focused on securing the protection of people with disabilities under civil rights laws.[5][6] While serving as a legislative assistant to the chairperson of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, in 1974 she helped develop legislation that became the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. An early leader in the independent living movement, she then moved to Berkeley where she served as deputy director of the Center for Independent Living.

Initially Joseph Califano, U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, refused to sign meaningful regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities.[7] After an ultimatum and deadline, demonstrations took place in ten U.S. cities on April 5, 1977, including the beginning of a sit-in at the San Francisco Office of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This sit-in, led by Heumann and organized by Kitty Cone, lasted until May 4, 1977, a total of 28 days, with more than 150 people refusing to leave. It is the longest sit-in at a federal building to date. Joseph Califano signed the regulations on April 28, 1977.[8][9][10][11][12][13]

Heumann co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Ed Roberts and Joan Leon in 1983, serving as co-director until 1993.

Heumann served in the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the US Department of Education from 1993 to 2001. From 2002 to 2006 she served as the World Bank Group's first Advisor on Disability and Development, leading the World Bank's work on disability and worked to expand the Bank’s knowledge and capability to work with governments and civil society on including disability in the Bank discussions with client countries, its country-based analytical work, and support for improving policies, programs, and projects that allow disabled people around the world to live and work in the economic and social mainstream of their communities.[14] She was Lead Consultant to the Global Partnership for Disability and Development. She was the Director of the Department of Disability Services for the District of Columbia, but in 2010 became the Special Advisor on Disability Rights for the US State Department under President Barack Obama.[15]

In 2014 the Berkeley Rotary Club gave its annual Rotary Peace Grove Award to Heumann and to the late Ed Roberts, another disability rights activist. [16]


Heumann graduated from Long Island University in 1969 and gained a Master of Science degree in public health at the University of California, Berkeley in 1975. She has been awarded honorary doctorates by Long Island University in Brooklyn, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Toledo. She was the first recipient of the Henry B. Betts Award from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (later awarded jointly with the American Association of People with Disabilities). Heumann is married to Jorge Pineda, and lives in Washington, D.C. She is the sister of Joe Heumann, a noted film professor and published author.


  1. ^ http://www.disabilityworld.org/04-05_02/news/heumann.shtml
  2. ^ http://www.adawatch.org/JudyHeumannPA.htm ADA Watch
  3. ^ http://www.disabilityhistory.org/people.html#heumann Disability Social History Project
  4. ^ http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/drilm/collection/items/heumann.html University of California, Bancroft Library, Oral History archives, The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement
  5. ^ Independent Living USA: biography
  6. ^ http://www.disabledinaction.org/photos_heumann.html
  7. ^ "Short History of the 504 Sit in". dredf.org. 
  8. ^ "Disability History Timeline". Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Independent Living Management. Temple University. 2002. 
  9. ^ "The Regents of the University of California. 2008. "The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement." Berkeley, CA: The University of California Berkeley". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Disability Social History Project, article title Famous (and not-so-famous) People with Disabilities". Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "EDGE - Curriculum - Biology". disabilityhistory.org. 
  12. ^ "Political Organizer for Disability Rights, 1970s-1990s, and Strategist for Section 504 Demonstrations, 1977". cdlib.org. 
  13. ^ "Kitty Cone, Facts On File, Inc., 2009. American History Online; Facts on File information obtained from Encyclopedia of American Disability History". Encyclopedia of American Disability History. 
  14. ^ http://www.disabilityworld.org/04-05_02/news/heumann.shtml
  15. ^ Judith E. Heumann-Director, DC Department on Disability Services Biography
  16. ^ http://www.contracostatimes.com/west-county-times/ci_26190156/berkeley-disability-activists-receive-peace-award-emotional-ceremony

Further reading[edit]

  • Judith E. Heumann, Including the Voices of Disabled People in the International Development Agenda, Thornburgh Family Lecture Series, University of Pittsburgh School of Law accessed at [1] July 24, 2006
  • Judith E. Heumann, Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement: Pioneering Disability Rights Advocate and Leader, 1960s-2000, oral history, Online Archive of California, 2004, retrieved from [2] July 24, 2006
  • Ilene Zeitzer interview with Judy Heumann. Originally published in, "Change from Within: International Overview of the Impact of Disabled Politicians and Disability Policy Bodies on Governance". retrieved from [3] April 29, 2009

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Davila
Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Succeeded by
Robert Pasternack
Diplomatic posts
New office Special Advisor for International Disability Rights