Today: Jun 17, 2024

Honoring disability activist Judy Huemann

Jaylen CarrSports Editor

The university Women’s and Gender Studies department hosted a ceremony to honor disability rights movement leader Judy Heumann by inviting disability rights activists and showing her trailblazing movements in her life through video.  

“It is our tremendous honor to co-hosting this event with our beautiful sisters,” Women’s and Gender Studies professor and chairperson Yi-Chun Tricia Lin said. “There is much to say about Judy Heumann.” 

The co-hosting sisters of the ceremony were disability activists, Elain Kolb and Sarah Rizzuto, Lin said.  

Kolb is not only an activist but a poet and artist in the justice community, Lin said. Rizzuto is a university alum and an adjunct professor in the English department and Women’s and Gender Studies. Kolb and Rizzuto have visible disabilities and always fought for people with visual disabilities and invisible disabilities.  

“Heumann has been called the “mother of the disability rights movement” for her longtime advocacy on behalf of disabled people through protests and legal action,” according to AP News. “She lobbied for legislation that eventually led to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Rehabilitation Act. She served as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, beginning in 1993 in the Clinton administration, until 2001.” 

Heumann passed away on March 4, and the ceremony honored Heumann’s effort in fighting for those with a disability.  

Kolb said Heumann was more than just a movement leader; she was a sister to all everyone.  

“Before she did what she did for all those years, we had as people with a disability had nothing,” Kolb said. “We weren’t even considered human and had no rights as citizens.” 

Kolb said they could always depend on Heumann to fight for them. 

“Disability justice matters, and honoring Judy Heumann means that we have to rise together,” Kolb said.  

Lin showed a video by NowThis News of Heumann speaking at a U.S. Joint House and Senate hearing in 1988, discussing her experience as disabled in America. She contracted polio as a child and explained her experience of being discriminated against because she was in a wheelchair.   

“In essence, because of her advocacy and the advocacy of others that joined her, I wouldn’t be able to receive that I did and become a teacher here,” Rizzuto said.  

Rizzuto presented a love letter during the ceremony that she wrote to Heumann, saying that Heumann didn’t lead by example but created it.  

“I have been affected by living in the toxic culture we live in,” Kolb said. “Ableism and disability phobia are horrible.” 

Kolb said events like this help unite everyone regardless of race, gender and abilities.  

“Let’s view this as an opportunity to reach across all the different borders and of all different kinds,” Kolb said. “Judy Heumann went across the world.” 

Heumann created Disabled in Action, a civil rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination against those who are disabled. The organization was located in New York City, Kolb said.  

“I can’t tell you how many demonstrations or events that I went to where Judy Heumann showed up and was there,” Kolb said. “She was amazing.” 

Throughout the event, Kolb shared some songs that she wrote about people with a disability and how they are humans like everyone else.  

Lin showed the video of Heumann’s TED Talk presentation from 2019. Heumann explained how George H. W. Bush was an advocate for disability rights. On July 26, 1990, President Bush spoke about and signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law fighting for those with a disability.  

“President Bush signed the ADA on the lawn of the White House, and there were about 2,000 people there,” Heumann said. “One of the most statements he had in his speech was ‘let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” 

Heumann served under the Bush administration as the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the Department of Education, according to the Heumann website. She also served as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. Department of State under President Obama’s administration in 2010. 

At the end of the ceremony, there was an open discussion for the audience to ask questions to Kolb and Rizzuto. 

Rizzuto said that those who do not have a disability could fight for us by having an open mind.  

Just walking up to someone with a disability and starting a conversation with them is a great way to understand their perspective, Kolb said.  

“We can all learn about the history of disability,” Lin said. “I urge everyone that we all push ourselves.” 

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