Judy Heumann

“Part of the problem is that we tend to think that equality is about treating everyone the same, when it’s not. It’s about fairness. It’s about equity of access.”

Judy Heumann

b. December 18, 1947

Ms. Heumann had polio as a child and, therefore, wheelchair bound. On her first day of kindergarten, her public elementary school principal blocked her from attending and saw her as a “fire hazard.” Her mother fought to have that changed.

So, having a mother fighting for her daughter’s rights inspired Ms. Heumann to become a disabilities advocate and president of “Disabled in Action.” Responding to President Nixon’s veto of The Rehabilitation Act of 1972, she organized a sit-in protest in Manhattan’s busy evening rush hour traffic along with other citizens in wheel chairs and on crutches. The Act’s purpose was to help those on kidney dialysis and to set up centers for those who are blind, deaf, or suffering from spinal cord injuries, among other things. 

The protest was successful as it had the support of the police and was staged outside of the NY Committee to re-elect Nixon offices and brought necessary attention to the needs of the disabled. But more importantly, it inspired a flood of angry letters and Congress overrode the veto and The Rehabilitation Act was passed in 1973; Section 504 specifically addresses the needs of those with disabilities.

It was a pivotal law and began an ongoing fight by disability rights activists to have regulations put in place and actually implemented and enforced. This act was also a predecessor to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

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