UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. – Judy Heumann contracted polio at the age of 18 months. At the age of five, she was denied schooling because she could not walk and was told she was a fire hazard. She did not accept that vision for her future, nor did she accept this kind of smooth judgment for anyone else.
Based on her own experience, Heumann is recognized internationally as a lifelong advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and has served in many roles including special adviser on international rights of people with disabilities at the US State Department. Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services at the US Department of Education and first advisor on disability and development to the World Bank.
Heumann will work with the Penn State Community to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with two virtual events.
Heumann’s work is highlighted in the documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution,” produced by former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, directed by James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham and the winner of the Sundance 2020 Audience Award for US Documentary.
The film tells the story of Heumann and a group of teenage campers in the 1970s who were inspired to join the struggle for civil rights with disabilities after visiting Camp Jened in Hunter, New York.
“We talked about our everyday life and our thoughts about the future and we didn’t like what we saw in our future. That’s why we decided to change it,” said Heumann. “Not all people with disabilities are born with them, but suddenly the vision for their life changes forever. It is important to enable these people with disabilities to talk to others and have a vision of how their lives can develop, what obstacles there are and how they can move. This applies not only to people with disabilities, but also to gender, ethnicity, cultural and sexual orientation. “
The ADA, which was signed by former President George HW Bush in 1990, was intended to intensify efforts to improve physical accessibility for people with disabilities and was only realized through Heumann and a whole movement of determined people who had organized cross-border rallies for years. Sit-ins, sleep-ins, and hunger strikes and wouldn’t be put off.
“This fight has been my whole life. My mother was searching and curious, she found ways for me to get an apprenticeship, a camp to which I was allowed to go. This fight wasn’t just me. It was a community that has evolved, ”said Heumann. “Today’s battle includes COVID-19, mental health awareness and the Black Lives Matter movement. Our voices will be strengthened when lawmakers realize how important these issues are to the wider community.”
Marcus Whitehurst, Vice Provost of Educational Justice at Penn State, said it was important to host both events for Penn State and the surrounding communities.
“As Penn State continues to focus on promoting inclusion, justice and diversity, it is imperative that disability is recognized as part of this conversation and initiative. This includes an ongoing and careful review of the experiences and perspectives of people with disabilities who are involved in our university, ”said Whitehurst. “We continue to see increasing numbers of students with disabilities entering college, and this is in large part due to landmark civil rights laws like the ADA and disability rights activists like Judy Heumann. We also recognize that hidden disabilities make up the majority of the disability types in Penn State. We hope that we can continue to ensure that people with disabilities do not encounter physical barriers, but we also want to address and minimize hiring barriers related to disabilities so that all people have an equal chance of long-term success. “