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Honoring the Life of Disability Rights Leader Judy Heumann

Judy Heumann at a Section 504 protest, and Judy seated in her wheelchair, posing for a photo later in life.
Photographer: Neha Balachandran from

In 2021, to honor International Women’s Day, DSI celebrated the work of four inspiring women with disabilities throughout history. One of those women was Judith “Judy” Heumann. This Women’s History Month, DSI, like thousands of others worldwide, is mourning the loss of Judy Heumann, who passed away on March 4, 2023, in Washington, DC. She was 75 years old.

Judy left an indelible mark on the world. Her activism changed the built environment in which we all live, and her legacy has inspired and educated the next generations of disability rights activists worldwide. In the US, Judy is perhaps most well-known for her leadership and activism through the 504 Sit-Ins, which led to the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world, but really, I simply refused to accept what I was told about who I could be. And I was willing to make a fuss about it.” ― Judy Heumann

However, in addition to her work in the US, Judy worked internationally to promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities and to integrate disability rights into international development. From 2002 to 2006, she served as the first Advisor on Disability and Development at the World Bank. From 2010 to 2017, during the Obama Administration, she worked as the first Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the U.S. State Department. She also played an integral role in drafting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Judy Heumann’s determination and dedication to the rights of people with disabilities changed the world. The DSI team has learned so much from her and will continue to join with thousands of people around the world who are carrying on her legacy in the pursuit of equal rights, inclusion, and access for all people with disabilities.

“When other people see you as a third-class citizen, the first thing you need is a belief in yourself and the knowledge that you have rights. The next thing you need is a group of friends to fight back with.” ― Judy Heumann, Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist

Visit the links below to learn more about Judy’s life and how you can honor her legacy by continuing the fight for disability rights.


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