Judy Heumann was known as the “Mother of the Disability Rights Movement.” Over the course of decades, she worked to have the government recognize the rights of disabled people— first as a protestor, and later as part of the Clinton and Obama administrations.

In 1970, the New York City Board of Education denied her a teaching license because of her quadriplegia— claiming her wheelchair made her a fire hazard. Her subsequent lawsuit was the first ever disability civil rights case brought to federal court, and the springboard to her activism.

Another pivotal moment in her career came in 1977, during the 504 Sit-ins. People with disabilities and their allies occupied federal buildings across the United States to push for a long-delayed anti-discrimination policy. Judy organized the San Francisco contingent, which lasted 25 days, becoming the longest sit-in protest at a federal building in history. 

Legislation and programs she helped craft later in her career expanded accessibility to millions of people in the US.

Judy passed away at age 75 on March 4, 2023. To mark her passing, StoryCorps is releasing a conversation she recorded with her friend April Coughlin, about the landmark legal case that would define her career.



Top Photo: April Coughlin and Judy Huemann, in 2018. Courtesy of April Coughlin.


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