“Discrimination dies with great difficulty.”
This is the lesson Judy Heumann hopes students will take away from her recent book Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memory of a Disability Rights Activist.
On the night of Tuesday, February, Heumann spoke to over 150 students, parents, alumni and staff from the university and 11 partner campuses in a zoom event hosted by Naomi Hess ’22 and Rabbi Ira Dounn from the Center for Jewish Life (CJL) 2. The moderators Hess and Katie Heinzer ’22 asked Heumann pre-submitted audience questions on topics ranging from intersectionality to the Jewish community to media representation.
Hess is the Associate News Editor and Heinzer is the Associate Podcast Editor for The Daily Princetonian.
The event began two years ago when Hess suggested that the CJL hold a thematic Shabbat to celebrate the month for Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion. After making the themed Friday dinner in February an annual event, this year she expanded the audience by securing sponsorships from Hillel @ Home, the Dean’s Office for Students, the Undergraduate Student Government Projects Board, and the AccessAbility Center to invite renowned lawyer for disability rights Heumann to speak.
Heumann is Jewish and was paralyzed after suffering from polio. In the early 1970s, she became New York’s first teacher in a wheelchair. In 1977, she chaired a 28-day session on federal properties to campaign for the enforcement of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the first federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.
After holding positions in the Bill Clinton administration, the District of Columbia Department of Disability Services and the World Bank, Heumann joined the administration of former President Barack Obama as the first special advisor on international disability rights.
Dounn said in an interview with the “Prince” that Heumann was an ideal guest for the event.
She is “in many ways like a modern prophetess,” he noted, “someone who sees the problems of society and works to change them by advocating for social justice and repair.”
Heumann recognized these problems at a young age when she was denied access to public education due to her disability and she was excluded from religious practices because of her gender.
She talked about a more welcoming synagogue she went to as an adult that added a ramp and taught her how to partake in a ritual she had never experienced before. She asked participants to ask themselves what they were doing or not doing to allow Jews to have visible and invisible disabilities to truly feel part of the activity. “
According to Hess, Princetonians have increasingly responded to this question in recent years. She gave an example of a change Rabbi Dounn made at the CJL to foster a sense of inclusion: Instead of asking the entire community to stand up for blessings, he now says, “Please stand up if you can Location. “
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“It’s just a very small linguistic change, but it really shows me the effort Princeton is making to make sure I feel welcome and included,” said Hess.
Heumann also highlighted the importance of acceptance within the disability rights movement and its interaction with other causes, referring to the work of disability organizations to support those affected by AIDS and the resources Black Panthers provided to Section 504 sit-ins.
She stated that the Jewish community had been active in both civil rights and LGBTQ + rights movements, saying that she was inspired by the victims of civil rights activists willing to put their lives at risk, to ensure equality.
In an interview with the “Prince”, Heumann discussed the importance of an intersectional approach to activism at universities.
“When we look at the role of the organization on campus, we really have to feel responsible for each other,” said Heumann. “We understand the barriers people face because of disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, and see that these barriers not only adversely affect an individual in a community, but really adversely affect society as a whole.”
Gabrielle Sudilovsky ’22, president of the J-Lats Jewish-Latin student group, said she appreciated this focus on intersectionality and hoped that other students would leave the event for further conversation.
“Let’s keep talking about it and working to make the campus better. Because the campus can be much better and can only change if the students actively apply pressure, ”said Sudilovsky.
The event had a similar focus on discussion. Heumann encouraged people with and without disabilities to engage with one another to create a welcoming community.
In her interview with the “Prince”, Heumann saw the strategy as “coming together to part”: learning from people with similar and different experiences in order to improve their own lives and to gain a broader perspective on the lives of others.
The event’s zoom chat became a platform for such an exchange.
Students from different universities wrote about classes that focused on the disability rights movement. Participants recommended books featuring main characters with disabilities, sponsored events and educational resources for Jews with disabilities, and suggested an inclusive language for worship.
When asked how she felt about the event, Heumann said she would only be able to determine the answer in a few months.
“Ultimately, that’s what will happen as a result of the discussion,” she said.
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