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National News

Disability Community Celebrates Life of Advocate Judy Heumann

Credit: iStock

Kathryn Carley

The disability community is mourning the loss of one of its greatest advocates.

Judy Heumann, often called the “mother of the disability rights movement,” and a driving force behind some of its greatest legislative accomplishments, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, has passed away.

Monica Zulauf, interim executive director with Able N.H., said Heumann helped ensure people with disabilities were made visible.

“We’re losing a generation of people who knew how to advocate and how to bring people together in a respectful way that really moved the needle,” Zulauf said.

Zulauf added she admired Heumann’s bold leadership and direct actions, including a 1977 sit-in by disabled activists at a federal building in San Francisco which lasted 28 days and led to passage of what’s known as Section 504, one of the first federal civil rights laws offering protection for Americans with disabilities.

Heumann spent her life working to ensure people like herself had access to education and jobs. In 1970, she won a lawsuit against the New York Board of Education and became the first teacher there to work while using a wheelchair. Kelly Ehrhart, president of People First of New Hampshire, said Heumann’s activism made a lasting impression.

“I think it will help us realize that we can advocate for ourselves because she did it for herself and other people, too,” Ehrhart said.

Some of Ehrhart’s advocacy work coming to fruition. After years of debate, a law ensuring dental benefits for adults under New Hampshire’s Medicaid program has been fully implemented providing more than 100-thousand Medicaid recipients access to needed care.

This story was written by Kathryn Carley, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.