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IEL Statement on Passing of Disability Rights Activist Judy Heumann

IEL statement

IEL Statement on Passing of Disability Rights Activist Judy Heumann

The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) is saddened by the recent passing of Judith “Judy” Heumann, an icon in the disability inclusion movement, and longtime friend and mentor of IEL. Although we mourn this great loss, Judy’s vast legacy of disability rights advocacy will forever have an impact on people living with disabilities, including children in our education system.

Judy spent her life striving to improve the lives of others by fighting for accessibility, inclusive education, and legislation to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Dubbed the “Mother of the Disability Rights Movement,” Judy’s activism, from civil protests to legal action, included lobbying for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Rehabilitation Act. She also served as the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative services from 1993 to 2001.

Judy sat on many boards of disability justice related organizations, including IEL’s board from 1979 to 1981, while she served as the Deputy Director at the Center for Independent Living in California.

Serving as an IEL board member and partnering with our organization throughout the 1970s, Judy had an immense impact on much of IEL’s work through our Center for Workforce Development (CWD), our Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), and the development of leaders up through present day.

“IEL is honored to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Judy – from her time on our board, to her generosity as a guest speaker for our EPFP Fellows, she embodied what it means for everyone to be an advocate,” said Karen Mapp, IEL Board Chair.

“IEL has a rich history of working to advance the rights of all people living with disabilities,” noted IEL President Eddie Koen. “So much of that work wouldn’t be the same if it were not for Judy’s leadership in fighting for full inclusion.” 

In the 1970s, in order to meet the demands of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (the precursor to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), IEL worked to develop two generations of special education policy leaders through EPFP. And in the 1990s, IEL launched the Center for Workforce Development, which helped leaders and stakeholders promote career readiness and successful transitions to adulthood with a special focus on youth with disabilities and other opportunity youth.

Through our current work, we continue to focus on partnering with communities to ensure all children have the opportunities they need to succeed, and seek to lift up the voices of youth with disabilities.

“Some people say that what I did changed the world,” Judy wrote, “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.