Judy Heumann, disability rights activist, died in March 2023 at the age of 75. Judy Heumann was born in 1947 to German Jewish immigrants. As a toddler, Heumann contracted polio, resulting in her using a wheelchair for the rest of her life. When Heumann was five years old, her parents tried to register her for kindergarten but were turned away. The principal told them because she used a wheelchair, Heumann would create a “fire hazard.” Years later, the same reason of a “fire hazard” was given when she tried to get a job as a teacher. When this happened, Heumann sued the Board of Education for discrimination, and the case was settled; she became the first teacher in New York City to use a wheelchair. Throughout her life, Judy Heumann, referred to as “the mother of the disability rights movement,” fought for the rights of people with disabilities in the U.S. and around the world.
This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn about Judy Heumann and her disability rights activism and to consider the ways in which our schools, communities and society need to continue to address the rights and fair treatment of people with disabilities.